The Nokia developer world seems a sad place at the moment. Symbian doesn't have any upmarket prospects, MeeGo isn't available yet and now an Android handset has been ruled out. Where next?
Nokia phones are a big market for developers with 38% of the smart phone market - or they should be.
In practice the OVI market place is a scattered mess compared with the two current market leaders - iPhone and Android. Add to this the difficulty of deciding what the future is and you have the developer's dilemma.
A conversation with a loyal Nokia high end phone user indicated the problem that users have:
"I wanted an App - at the Android shop I had a choice of three at OVI I couldn't find anything that would do the job"
This user is considering an Android as his next replacement phone.
This may be a sample of one but if you try the following experiment - "think of an App - count the number you find in the OVI store and compare to the number available for iPhone or Android" you quickly see the point.
Nokia is succeeding in confusing rather than encouraging developers. It has said that it will continue using Symbian for its lower end handsets but handsets after the N8 will run MeeGo, an operating system that is in development.
So what do you do develop for - Symbian or MeeGo?
Does Nokia really expect us to develop for both?
An obvious solution for Nokia would be to abandon the mobile OS business and simply provide a standard Android handset. However, in a recent interview a Nokia vice president stated that the company has no plans for an Android device and prefers to do battle in the Android v MeeGo space.
The problem seems to be that Nokia feels that it can't distinguish its handsets from others using an operating system that isn't its own. Hence MeeGo rather than Android.
There is a flaw in this argument. An alternative strategy would be to fork the Android core code and create its own modified version. This isn't a complete solution as Google controls the core Apps and access to the Android Market, but Nokia has the muscle to solve both of these problems with its own core apps and marketplace. The advantage would be that developers could simply create Android apps for Nokia as well as the other handsets.
Nokia believes in a more Utopian future where the users interface framework Qt is ported to both MeeGo and Symbian phones and will provide a unified environment for both. Of course there is more to an app than its UI.
Will developers work with MeeGo?
It seems an obvious enough decision to avoid Nokia development as much as possible - it's a fragmented environment, the tools for MeeGo aren't good as yet, there aren't even any handsets that run it and the future market size is completely uncertain. Even the partly doomed Symbian seems a better bet than MeeGo.
To back this observation a recent survey suggests that 15% of developers are interested in producing apps for Symbian and 11% are interested in MeeGo. You have to compare this to the response to the iPhone and Android, 84% and 81% respectively. The only thing lower down the list of responses than MeeGo was the Kindle, which hardly provides the same range of possibilities for apps.
Nokia may not regard developers as worth attracting - after all it is users who buy phones - but as indicated at the start many Nokia users are looking over the fence and seeing a rapidly growing range of tempting apps that they simply cannot get.
There's an app for that - unless it's a Nokia.
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