Nokia, taking apps local

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While “global” apps, such as Foursquare app and games such as Hero of Sparta HD, grab the headlines, local apps and services play a significant role in Nokia’s future. The new local app focus was revealed at Nokia World in September. Last week I got the opportunity to see how it’s starting to play out at the grass roots, in the form of the inaugural Forum Nokia developer breakfast in Auckland, New Zealand.

Quite how New Zealand got the honour of hosting the inaugural Forum Nokia developer breakfast is something of a mystery. As I don’t recall a similar (or any) Forum Nokia event in New Zealand over the past decade, perhaps it was by way of an apology. Whatever the reason, it brought together a small but diverse group of developers — working on everything from Firefox (to my shame I had not realised it’s coded at least in part in New Zealand) to hotel systems integration.

The breakfast kicked off with a general introduction to Nokia from Michael Blackwell, retail marketing manager, including a video of key Nokia facts — such as the number of people making calls on a Nokia device at any given time being greater than the population of Sweden or that photos taken with Nokia phones would fill the Louvre once every minute. (I’ve not found an official copy of the video, but there is a recording here if you are interested in more Nokia trivia.)

Then Shannon Mead, national account manager provided an introduction to Nokia in New Zealand. In addition to more background on Nokia, he touched on some statistics, such that there are some 750,000 people in New Zealand able to access Ovi Store. Perhaps the most interesting stat was that Australia and New Zealand combined, while ranking 19th for downloads, rank third for app purchases from Ovi store by both volume and revenue.

The developer offering was then introduced by Gary Chan, developer relations, Forum Nokia SEAP, much of which will be familiar to AllAboutSymbian readers, such as the focus on Qt for smartphones supported by the Nokia Qt SDK. Then finally Kenny Mather, head developer relations and marketing, Forum Nokia, APAC spoke more directly to how Nokia can support developers at a country level. Highlight included facilities such as operator billing and the promotion of local content through the topApps widget. Operator billing is already available in Australia and should be going live in New Zealand during 2011.

The first fruit of the new strategy in New Zealand is the release of an Air New Zealand Grab-a-Seat widget to support the local launch of the Nokia N8. According to Shannon Mead the development of this widget was a direct result of introducing Air New Zealand to the scale of the opportunities offered by Nokia.

The other big news was that Forum Nokia will also gain its first formal presence in Australia shortly, with a new developer support person taking up a seat in Sydney. This new role will support both Australian and New Zealand developers.

Overall the audience reaction to the presentation might best be characterised as quiet interest. In discussions after the presentations several developers expressed the intention of evaluating development for Nokia smartphones — with one or two suggesting they had already started.

One of Nokia’s significant strengths is its presence in almost every country around the globe. It might seem surprising therefore that the company has only now woken up to the possibilities of leveraging this presence to ensure its customers have access to locally relevant apps and services.

While Nokia’s ability to spark the interest of New Zealand developer hardly constitutes a bellwether of its ability to drive this local strategy globally, I for one will be following progress with interest (and reporting back).

Finally, because I just could not resist, as us residents of the world’s coolest small capital would say, well worth venturing north of the Bombay Hills.