with Nokia's Senior Vice President of Developer Experience and Marketplace Marco Agrenti
Nokia is fighting to gain a share of the U.S. smartphone market, and the April launch of its flagship Lumia 900 device has been a vital, first step in this direction. The device has enjoyed a positive reception, although the company is not discussing sales figures. Recently, FierceDeveloper editor Peggy Albright talked with Marco Argenti, senior vice president of developer experience and marketplace at Nokia, about the importance of developers to the Lumia product and to Nokia's success in the market. The following is an edited version of the conversation.
FierceDeveloper: The Lumia 900 is now on the market. What are you observing from customers' use of its applications?
Argenti: One thing that is very encouraging for us is that we're seeing a lot of momentum around some of the exclusive apps and the unique apps that we're bundling with the device.
Some apps that we developed in-house, like Nokia Drive and Creative Studio, are actually at the top of the list when it comes to usage. We've also been getting lots of great feedback from Nokia Maps and the Nokia Transit application. Those have all been extremely well received.
Another bundled app is called App Highlights, which provides a view of recommended apps and a starter kit for people who are coming to Windows Phone for the first time, and that has been seen tremendous pickup.
And in general, we have particular focus in making sure we engage with local developers to create local apps and that we make those apps available to customers around the world. App Highlights, for example, curates apps on a country by country basis so the starter kit might look differently in Europe than it will look in the U.S. So there is an element of specific, local curation that is driving users to look for more local apps.
FierceDeveloper: How important is the developer community to the success of these devices and to Nokia's business overall?
Argenti: It is extremely important because, of course, apps are one of the fundamental parts of a smartphone experience. Developers are absolutely at the center of our strategy.
We've been focusing specifically to build a winning ecosystem around Windows Phone since day one of the partnership with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). A year ago when we signed the agreement with Microsoft, there were around 7,000 apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace and now there are more than 80,000. The weekly submission of applications has increased by more than 300 percent. We feel there has been an inflexion point every time we have issued an announcement highlighting the opportunity for developers to work with Nokia to really broaden their abilities to distribute in many countries around the world.
The growth is also due to the fact that we've been working very closely with Microsoft in a lot of practical actions to engage with developers to support our strategy. We announced in Nokia World that we would seed more than 25,000 Lumia devices to developers, and as of today we've seeded about 17,000. Those are all part of the developer program and come with developer support.
We do a lot of local engagements. Our calendar has about 600 developer events worldwide from January through June this year. We are hosting more than 100 developer events for Windows Phone in North America alone. A lot of those are driven by Nokia, and a lot are driven by both Microsoft and Nokia.
We participated in the AT&T (NYSE:T) Developer Summit at CES, where more than 60 percent of applications developed were Windows Phone apps, and at the South by Southwest developer day 1,100 developers attended.
It is a lot of work and both organizations are really putting a lot of effort into this. The result in terms of both quality and quantity of apps submitted is quite encouraging at this point.
FierceDeveloper: Microsoft is said to be paying developers to make apps for Windows Phone. Is Nokia supporting this strategy or contributing to it?
Argenti: What I want to say is that we do support developers very closely so they can create things that are really unique for us. And when I say support, I am referring to a number of things. For example, the Metro UI for Windows Phone is quite unique, and we want them to use it to the fullest. We help developers by providing design clinics and in some other cases we help with training and in some other cases it is support.
We try to have as deep a relationship as possible with the developers and provide concrete support, for example providing free devices, and we essentially are facilitating that. Nokia really wants to provide that form of support to developers in exchange for trying to make something unique and differentiating for the platform.
FierceDeveloper: How would you characterize the universe of Windows Phone apps, and what types of apps are you striving for?
Argenti: The short answer is locally relevant apps. That is absolutely at the top of our interest. We are striving to have apps that are catering to specific users, specific brands, specific contexts that are really unique locally.
And the other angle we're striving for is uniqueness and differentiation. For example, ESPN apps can use Live Tiles to show a specific player on the home screen or to display sports updates in real-time. These really leverage the capabilities of the platform.
So local and unique are really what we're trying to go for when we develop for the phone.
FierceDeveloper: What are you doing to recruit developers in the United States?
Argenti: First and foremost are the developer activities I mentioned earlier and the 100 events we're hosting from January and through June. That's the concrete way we're approaching and growing the developer base in North America.
And of course, developers are also very responsive to the media message overall. As you've seen, the launch of Lumia 900 has been one of the largest launches in the history of the smartphone.
The media campaigns and the intensity with which we're introducing the phone in the market are having a very important additive effect of attracting developers. So we have a strong message, we support a lot of events and a lot of local engagements in various states. That's what's behind the phenomenal growth we have in the applications.
FierceDeveloper: How many people on your staff are working in your developer program?
Argenti: We have a fairly large team. I'm not sure if we have disclosed the number of employees, but it is hundreds of people, and we have local offices in several countries, and in every office there are people who are fully dedicated to developer support. And that is the core of this answer: It is not just one huge global team. In fact, most of the engagements are actually local.
FierceDeveloper: How can developers monetize their apps when working with you?
Argenti: The number one item on the agenda when we talk to developers is how to ensure driving a business opportunity. We're actually educating and advising developers on how to best distribute and monetize their apps around the world, how to identify segments that might be interested in a specific app, or the right price point for the various markets and so on.
So there is an element of ensuring that developers make the best possible return on their investments. We have a business development toolkit that we are progressively rolling out. It resonates really well with developers who are used to thinking about an SDK to build apps because this is a BDK to distribute and monetize apps. The BDK includes analytics, information about user preferences around the world, design clinics and advice on how to write a good description when publishing an app.
And of course we also have some interesting assets, and one of them is operator billing. We currently have operator billing support with 146 operators in 50 markets. And when we have introduced operator billing, we have seen increasing monetization and conversion rate increases of 300 to 500 percent.
Operator billing is supported by the Windows Phone platform, and in the U.S. and other markets this is available through all operators. In other markets, that integration is under way. So that can be quite a winning formula, especially for apps sold in countries where app monetization is problematic.
FierceDeveloper: Nokia and Microsoft launched a $24 million initiative at Aalto University in Finland to help students and entrepreneurs with app development. How important is this and do you plan to launch similar programs in other regions?
Argenti: It is very important for us for two reasons. One is because of the importance of Finland itself as a developer community. There are a lot of high-quality developers in the country and we want to really help them come up with the greatest concepts and turn them into great apps.
The other element is that it is really a lab. We definitely intend to replicate it if it is successful. The university has curriculum and the students; the technology aspects and platform support come from Microsoft and Nokia; and of course Nokia serves as the device manufacturer and also as the distribution channel to bring those apps to market.