Nokia reaches out to developers at UK Ovi conference

Incentives, QA gripes and location, location, location

Nokia reaches out to developers at UK Ovi conference
Nokia’s first UK Ovi developer conference was aimed at encouraging small and individual developers to come aboard, and appeasing those who had joined the program and encountered difficulties.

With several Nokia UK and Ireland executives present and refreshingly open to questions from the floor, the event, which was held on Thursday 24th September, was a chance for both sides to get a feel for the realities of developing applications for the fledgling Nokia service.

Nokia UK MD Mark Loughran was in attendance and keen to point out the company was in a uniquely strong position, with 1.2 billion Nokia phones sold to date.

He made a sly reference to rival Apple when he said, "We’re not talking about a niche high-end that only a few people can afford."

No one too small

With so many potential users, Loughran dangled the considerable carrot of embedded applications on the UK store, which he insisted would be achievable by even the smaller developers.

Indeed, Loughran repeated throughout the day his aim was to have freer, more open dialogue with smaller developers which, he accepted, warranted a change of approach on Nokia’s part.

Location, location, location

Rupert Englander, head of services, summed up the structure of Ovi as essentially four interconnected services: Messaging, Social Location, Media (including games) and Music.

As an example of how Ovi would allow these elements to interact and the intelligence of Ovi Store, he explained Ovi would be able to tell when you’re on holiday and would recommend apps (such as translation guides) accordingly.

In fact, the new free Ovi SDK takes user location as its starting point.

While games were not directly on the agenda at any point, the general push towards location-based applications seemed to synchronise with the ideas of Nokia games publishing’s Mark Ollila, who has been championing location-based gaming for some time.

Testing, testing

The highlight of the day came just before the break for lunch (it’s not often you can say that of a conference), with Benjamin Roszczewski of Forum Nokia EMEA leading a lively discussion on the current Ovi development environment and the improvements Nokia is looking to make.

During an extended and occasionally heated session, Roszczewski was asked how Nokia intended to back up its claims of being small developer friendly when it currently cost thousands of pounds to test applications across each of its handsets.

Roszczewski claimed this was an area Nokia was actively working on. The result, he promised, would be the need to develop only a single version of any application.

Is the QA process broken?

Yet the chief issue to emerge from the day, and one that became a running theme, was the current state of Nokia’s QA and publishing process.

One audience member described it as "a farce" and "arbitrary."

Mark Loughran’s response that Nokia was now listening, and that major improvements would be made within the next 3-4 months didn’t wash with another, who questioned what would change in that time period when it had taken years to get to this point.

It was also put to the speakers that "others have overtaken you".

Loughran again pointed to the unique scale of Nokia’s operation, which had to cater for hundreds of handsets rather than the one or two of Apple.

Success stories

The afternoon session kicked off with Janaina Pilomia, product marketing anager for Forum Nokia, explaining the Calling All Innovators UK competition being run by Nokia.

The developer of the winning application will win £20,000, a trip to the Nokia Spring 2010 event, and a fast track to Ovi launch membership.

As an example of the kind of applications Nokia was looking for, Pilomia called up some of the successful developers from the 2009 global competition and asked them to talk of their experiences with Ovi.

Undoubtedly the most insightful comment came from Chris Petty of Bluesky North, who developed the personal finance tracker Florin.

Petty spoke candidly of the good and bad side of the Ovi development process.

On the plus side, he said that Ovi allowed them to target the 10 percent of mobile users who had handsets that were capable of running Flash Lite applications. They had experienced frustration when trying to get the app approved through traditional operators, who demanded that the application work across all handsets.

On the negative side, he admitted to having had 'a terrible time' with the QA process, and that discovery on Ovi Store was an issue. However, he praised Nokia’s willingness to refine their service, and had every faith that the problems would be rectified.

Ed Hodges, who helped bring Touchnote to Ovi, also had some interesting comments on the Ovi QA process.

After the app went through the initial process successfully, he found that it was rejected the second time for no apparent reason. It emerged that part of the artwork for the application featured two girls at a party, with one wearing a fairly low cut V-neck top. After photo-shopping the image the app was approved.

Cash for Flash

After a run through of the Ovi SDK from product manager Martin Ramsin, which revealed that it was closely tied to Nokia’s "industry leading" maps software, Janaina returned to speak about the Open Screen Fund which is run by Nokia and Adobe.

This is a $10 million pot assigned to getting the best Flash Lite applications up and running.

Indeed, it was a day of incentives. From promises of embedded software and access to an unequalled number of potential customers, to prestigious competitions and funding schemes, Nokia clearly means business in its bid to tempt small developers to the Ovi side.

Benjamin Roszczewski closed proceedings by promising to take three main points away to work on. Putting it to the floor, he came up with:

1. Certification – clarity of what’s required of apps

2. Efficiency of the QA/publishing process

3. Discoverability of apps on Ovi Store

Time will tell if Nokia manages to act on what they have been told by the UK’s developers, but if they intend to reach 300 million Ovi users by 2012, they’ll probably have to.

Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.