Nokia Empowering Devs, Not Chasing App Store Numbers

Nokia (s nok) today took steps to try to attract developers by refining its Ovi store, announcing in-app purchases, and improving its software tools. Nokia, the largest handset company in the world based on total sales, wants developers to leverage its huge user base, and says it’s not chasing numbers of total apps downloaded or available in the store. VP for Forum Nokia and Developer Community Purnima Kochikar announced the actions today at the company’s annual Nokia World event, held this year in London.

After the announcements, I spent 30 minutes chatting with Kochikar about how Nokia is enabling developers to build a robust, competitive app ecosystem. She was quick to say that Nokia is listening to developers. “We hear them, and we’re giving developers what they want by making it easier to get apps to our install base and reduce fragmentation across our many devices.” Indeed, part of that simplification is today’s news that Nokia will remove the cumbersome nature of Java (s orcl) and Symbian app signing for programmers.

Nokia’s Ovi store, which some developers previously found lacking, gains a new look, but more importantly, offers flexible payment options such as operator billing and in-app purchases. Ovi will also enable a free-to-paid model for developers such as the one demonstrated with the addictive Angry Birds game: If stuck at a particular game level, players can purchase a “silver bullet” character that is guaranteed to complete the level.

When I queried Kochikar about Nokia’s numbers of available and downloaded apps (the sort of stuff Apple (s aapl) and Google (s goog) like to tout), she pointed out differences that make Nokia’s store harder to compare. “Many of our developers create locally relevant apps that are only attractive in certain markets,” she said, indicating that apps in varied markets can take advantage of Nokia’s global reach. In many of those markets, consumption behavior is varied in ways that Nokia is better equipped to handle than competitors. On one hand, I understand where Nokia is coming from: After all, hyper-local apps that aren’t relevant to my locality have no relevance for me. On the other hand, not wanting to play the numbers game could mean hiding a weak hand at the mobile app poker table.

The number of apps aside, Kochikar admitted that Nokia needs to improve how it markets its Ovi store and services, because there are numerous success stories that go untold. “JamDat (s jmdt), for example, was able to initiate an IPO based on its application sales revenues from Nokia devices. And GetJar is the second-largest app store in the world, due primarily to the apps it provides to Nokia handsets,” Kochikar said.

I’ll be walking through the Nokia Developer Summit later today and tomorrow, as it’s held in conjunction with Nokia World. My hope is to chat with developers to get their take on the new Ovi store enhancements, billing options and updated SDKs for Nokia devices. With a handful of popular smartphone platforms commanding developer attention, I’m wondering what else developers want to see from Nokia. Qt appears have the most buzz here at the show, and as a strong cross-platform framework, it greatly reduces the amount of app fragmentation between Nokia devices and makes it simpler to create touchscreen software.

Perhaps my most burning question to developers is: Are they concerned that competing smartphone platforms have grown seemingly out of nowhere in the past three years? Based on the opening remarks by senior Nokia executives earlier today, the company surely has that concern and is vocally fighting back. But at some point, there’s a chicken-and-egg scenario similar to the one that Palm (s palm) initially faced with webOS: Developers have limited time and resources and could focus on just one or two platforms while abandoning others. The steps Nokia took today will help, but I want to hear from developers if they’re enough.

While I round up some programmers, here’s a five-minute video walkthough of the new Ovi Store on an N8 handset for your enjoyment. The store is definitely Nokia’s best effort yet to provide a compelling centralized market for consumers to buy apps, which is a plus if you’re a Nokia developer.


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