July 3, 2011 10:23 pm

Nokia thinks local to catch rivals on apps

Nokia, the troubled handset maker, is betting that a focus on localised applications, created and promoted in specific regional markets, will give its Windows-based smartphones an advantage over established rivals such as Apple’s iPhone.

Access to a broad range of independent applications – from games such as Angry Birds to chat services such as WhatsApp Messenger – is seen as crucial for the success of any smartphone platform.

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A wide gap in market share of both apps and devices separates Nokia and Microsoft, which finalised their partnership in April, from market leaders Google and Apple. Nokia has 55,000 apps for its operating systems and Microsoft has 25,000 for Windows Phone, leaving the pair far behind Apple’s iOS, with more than 425,000, and Google’s Android with 200,000.

As it desperately seeks to achieve differentiation, Nokia is emphasising the importance of local developers and targeted marketing, in the hopes of winning over app makers.

Marco Argenti, Nokia’s senior vice-president of developer and marketplace, told the Financial Times that the Finnish handset manufacturer would seek to galvanise its network of independent developers in dozens of countries to ensure that “the richest set of applications possible” is available when its first Windows device is launched later this year.

“One of the things that developers can see very clearly is with Nokia coming into the picture, the distribution of the Windows Phone changes quite a bit,” he said, “which means we are going to create opportunities for local developers, so there are more apps in general and more local apps.”

Localised apps could include a cricket app for India, one for football in Italy, or an app for regional banks and newspapers. These will be promoted by Nokia in the relevant countries, both at the point of sale and through a special Nokia-branded portal for the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Mr Argenti said he would prioritise quality over quantity. “If you are immersed in a sea of hundreds of thousands of apps without a careful way of local discovery, it doesn’t translate into success.

Many country-specific apps are available on Android and iPhone devices but Nokia says it can provide something distinctive for both vendors and users, given its long-standing efforts to work with developers around the world.

Mr Argenti’s unit at Nokia employs 700 people globally, with a further 300 in local offices. Nokia will provide local payment processing services, such as billing through operator contracts – something Android lacks in many countries.

This means developers can charge for apps, giving them greater returns than relying on advertising for revenues.

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