Nokia's Preminet - Ewan Interviews Steen Thygesen

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Back in October, Nokia announced a new area for the Finnish company. Preminet would be a software store retailer, that would work with the carriers and developers, providing over the air download services for handset owners. With strong online competition from Handango and Symbian Gear, All About Symbian were interested in what Nokia could bring to the table. We sat down with Steen Thygesen, from Forum Nokia, to talk about this new venture.

Steen ThygesenWhat is Preminet?

Nokia are hoping that Preminet makes it easier for the end-user to get a hold of and use third party software. Unlike other PDA devices, such as Palm OS, there are huge numbers of users of Symbian OS who are simply not aware that they can add things onto their smartphones. UIQ users are much more adept at this than Series 60, and the sales figures from online stores bear this out. It should also help the developers access this market. When the end-users donít even know they can get software, itís hard to advertise and reach out to them.

Steen explained to me some of the key benefits to Preminet. Firstly, the operators are obviously looking to drive up ARPU, and you can do this in two ways. You can either make more money, or use your resources more efficiently. Preminet helps with both of these. Having a single point of contact in Forum Nokia, who hold the master catalogue of all the titles available means they donít have to begin and maintain a relationship with every developer. The second is that titles are delivered straight into the handset, ready to use. Forum Nokia provide a front end that the Operators can customise to their own look and feel, that the end-users will then have pre-installed on their phones. This will also allow the operators to bill customers through their monthly bill, making payment (always an issue in over the air purchases).

So whoís signed up to Preminet then? "Weíve been working with Smartcom in Chile, and Tata Teleservices in India," replies Steen, "and other companies for a number of months. More are in the pipeline."

Whatís In It For The Developers?

Compared to Handango, the networks are going to love Preminet, probably because they finally get their hands on some of the cash floating around the third party software scene. But why should a developer be interested in Preminet?

"The developer of an application should get the same as they otherwise would." Thereís obviously going to be some negotiation involved on the percentage that the Operator will hand over to the Developer, but as one of Preminetís objectives is to bring value to developers, itís probably fair to say that they wonít be any worse off than they are through other stores. What about Nokiaís percentage? "Forum Nokiaís other primary objectives in lanching Preminet is to make applications easily available to operators. Our revenue split is designed to achieve these primary objectives, but we do not disclose specific percentages."

So how would a developer get his application into the Preminet catalogue? "The first step is to create a great application!" points out Steen. "After that we have a standard Preminet Developer Agreement, so we can market your application." Youíll also need to have your app tested, either through the Java Verified or Symbian Signed program, so there will be a cost involved.

There was mention that Preminet would be restricted to only those members of Forum Nokia Pro. Not everyone is part of this, so should they be worried that this is a start of a 'two-speed' Forum Nokia? "Preminet is for all members of Forum Nokia, and aimed at accelerating the growth of the mobile application market in a way that creates more opportunity for all developers. We believe the program helps yield expanded availability of technical resources that will become available to all our developer community. Currently, Forum Nokia has the richest community offering at the free level of any GSM developer program, and individual developers and small companies can continue to rely on that level of support.

But while membership in Forum Nokia Pro is not required to get applications into the master catalogue, Steen does comment that "it is helpful."

There seems to be one flaw in all of this in my mind. Once an application is in the Preminet Master Catalogue, itís up to the Networks to choose the application. Surely that leaves the developer in a quandary, where he may still want to talk to each Network to get them to pick up his application into their own sub-catalogue? "Yes, absolutely, that kind of dialogue is encouraged. We seek to support this. Nokia content managers have discussions with operators on applications that are put into the Master Catalogue, based on operator needs, and thereby help to ensure the most relevant applications are included, which encourages success for all of the applications. But developers are encouraged to continue their own marketing. The best applications will always rise to the top and succeed in the marketplace, so Preminet only needs to provide a fair playing field, which it does. Beyond that, there are marketing opportunities within the Master Catalogue, and developers are of course free to do additional direct marketing if they like."

Looking Forward

Preminet is obviously going to be a major player, and Steen certainly gets over that Forum Nokia is doing its best to give every developer the same opportunities. Is that the same for other platforms? With Series 80 making resurgence, will Preminet be opened up to that platform? "Series 80 support is being tested at present, but no final decision has been made."

What about other platforms inside Symbian? Would Nokia entertain Preminet running on UIQ devices? "Preminet is open to all the other Symbian Platforms, as well as any other handset that supports the OMA standards and can run Java Certified or Symbian Signed applications," answers Steen. "When it comes to the download client, the Preminet Purchasing Client is initially available for Symbian OS on Series 60, and as a Java Midlet for Series 40 [Nokiaís Proprietary Phone Operating System]. Adaptation for other interfaces and platforms is possible given market demand."

Nokia now has the leading smartphone range (in Series 60), the developer toolkit (Codewarrior) and now a distribution chain to the major market (Preminet). You could easily walk away from all the partnerships and companies you work with, and still be the dominant force in the mobile phone business. Will you? "No," Steen replies quickly. "We support open standards and we believe the best strategy for the long term, both for us and for the market, is to continue on this path and work together with other companies in order to build the overall market."

Preminet certainly looks to be another route forward to the market for develoeprs, and weíll be watching it with a careful eye. And with that, thank you for your time, Steen.