Symbian-focussed Nokia Developer Champions dropped early

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Nokia Developer has ended the membership, ahead of schedule, of the Nokia Developer Champion program, for a number of Symbian-focussed developers, as the company continues its transition to Windows Phone. Access to Nokia's standard developer program, which is free to join and is open to everyone, is unaffected by the move.

The Nokia Developer Champion is a program aimed at giving recognition to those whom Nokia considers to be key members of their developer community. The program is primarily about prestige and recognition, although all Nokia Developer Champions receive a device of their choice from Nokia, are given the opportunity to receive early access to developer tools, and are eligible to attend Champion-only networking events (usually co-located with other Nokia events). 

As the Nokia developer site explains:

Nokia Developer Champions earn recognition for having outstanding expertise in certain Nokia Developer-related areas, participating in various online and offline activities, and sharing and showcasing their knowledge with other Nokia Developer community members. Nokia Developer Champions are from all regions of the world, have a variety of backgrounds, and are experts in wide-ranging mobile-development areas. But they all have one thing in common: Nokia Developer Champions are loyal Nokia Developer community members whose professionalism enriches the community for all of us.

Nokia Developer Champions have a special energy. They share their thoughts and spark exciting new ideas. Their insight, vision, and active involvement inspire others and reflect the true philosophy of the Nokia Developer community. Nokia Developer Champions have certainly earned the extraordinary range of rewards we have set aside especially for them.

Last week a number of developers received an email from Nokia Developer explaining that their membership of the Nokia Developer Champion program was not be renewed and, in some cases, was being cut short earlier than scheduled. The common factor among those affected by the move appears to be that their main focus is developing for Symbian OS. Developers with a focus on other technologies (Windows Phone, Series 40, Web, and so on) remain part of the program and new members continue to be appointed as Nokia Developer Champions.

The decision has provoked rumblings of discontent from a number of developers, some of whom have taken to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction.


A high profile example is Jan Ole Suhr, developer of the popular Gravity application, who noted: "for the next platform, this [the decision] will guide me to iOS & Android". Such statements, from previously loyal developers, will not help Nokia in its mission to help make Windows Phone "the third ecosystem". Another developer we spoke to, who did not want to be named, described the decision as, "kicking me while I'm down after the Qt debacle" and "the last straw". 

Ultimately the number of developers involved is relatively small, around 15 or so by our estimates, but, as you might expect from such as program, it does include a number of very long term and loyal Symbian developers. 

While the numbers involved do pale into insignificance when compared to the enormous developer engagement program currently being undertaken by Microsoft and Nokia, it is hard not to see the decision to cut short membership as both short sighted and rather mean spirited. It will undoubtedly generate negative developer sentiment and critical media coverage; something that could have been largely avoided if Nokia had let the membership of the affected developers expire organically at the end of their annual term. Moreover, it will only add fuel to the fire of those who believe Nokia is seeking to brush Symbian under the rug as hastily as possible.

Nokia's existing developers have not had an easy time in the last two years. First, in 2009/2010, came the news that AVKON would gradually be deprecated in favour of Qt, at which point every developer was turned to move to Qt. Second, in February 2011, came the news of the switch from Symbian/MeeGo to Windows Phone, but with the caveat that Qt would be used to connect the billion, and therefore would remain a viable mobile developer platform. Third, and yet to be officially confirmed, came the news that the Qt strategy was being abandoned. 

A strategy that amounts to a double developer platform switch in two years has left developers with a sense of instability and anger that investments in code, training and time have, by necessity, been written off. The strategy change transition to Windows Phone made much of this inevitable, but the messaging and managing of the relationship with existing developers should have been better handled.

Disclosure: I was a Forum Nokia Champion, the forerunner of Nokia Developer Champion program, for two terms, between September 2007 and September 2009.

Update: A tweet from Jan Ole Suhr, sent July 24th, notes that he is "back in the Nokia Developer Champions" program, suggesting a rethink of the original decision has taken place.