Mobile App opportunity on Nokia Phones

June 17, 2010

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There are new Mobile apps coming out every day but inexplicably almost all of them skip the Nokia platform. This could be an interesting opportunity for other developers who could fill in these gaps for Nokia/Symbian platform which arguably is bigger than iPhone, Android or Blackberry.

Foursquare is a good example of a popular and growing service that doesn’t have a Nokia/Symbian play. Evernote promises to connect “all the computers and phones you use daily” but still skips Nokia/Symbian platform. Just yesterday, Amplify launched a new mobile bookmarklet which again is not available on Nokia/Symbian. These are just examples of many products that are focusing on iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm and Windows Mobile (in that order) and skipping Nokia/Symbian.

Surely, Nokia and other Symbian based handset users look at these apps and wonder why they are being left out. Some of them may switch to a iPhone or Android or Blackberry but a large number stays with their device. If you look at the data, what jumps out is that forget abandoning Nokia, more users than ever are buying Nokia Smartphones. As per data from IDC, Nokia shipped 39.3% of the smartphones worldwide in Q1, 2010 which is ahead of Blackberry’s 19.4% and Apple’s 16.1%. Android, Palm etc are not large enough to be mentioned by name and are clubbed under Others. Nokia has maintained its market share while Apple has gained at the cost of Blackberyy. The absolute numbers also tell an interesting story. Nokia shipped 21,500,000 phones in Q1 of 2010 which is 50% higher than their own sales. In other words, if the same growth rate continues for another three quarters, Nokia would sell over 100,000,000 smartphones in 2010 alone! Combine this with the already installed base of Nokia and the number is truly staggering.

This begs the question of why so many apps are ignoring potentially the largest market for apps. Some reasons are:

  1. On the demand side, no of users doesn’t translate to dollars earned. Some users pay more for the app than other users or their click thrus are more valuable. Once segmented this way the US market comes at the top. US market has a far higher penetration of iPhone, Blackberry and Android devices than the rest of the world and therefore, its no surprise that more US focused companies are developing for these platform. Focusing on US makes sense for an early mover as its a huge market by itself. Even Apple focussed its iPhone in US for quite some time.
  2. On the intersection of demand and supply, something interesting has been happening. Apple and now others have promoted the app store heavily. This has led to more iPhone users trying out apps and more developers developing apps for iPhone. Its a virtuous cycle where Apple is ahead and will stay ahead.
  3. On the supply side, Nokia hasn’t made it easy for developers to develop apps. First there is a challenge of multiplicity of devices and multiplicity of OS flavors. Second, Nokia has not painted a clear picture for developers and has also failed to deliver on some of its promises. Third, re-orgs within Nokia doesn’t give confidence to developers about Nokia staying the course or its future directions. Having said all these, these are probably less true now than they were a year ago. Nokia is showing signs of resurgence by launch of new models and platforms

The upshot is that large markets are being ignored because the overall market is huge. A blue ocean if you like. But it will take a lot of effort to own the blue ocean and I think justifiably so. So what are the opportunities for developers looking at this space? I think the following could be some themes:

  1. Meta Apps which put together several of the web services like Evernote, Amplify etc in one app. A good case study is what Nimbuzz has done in social networking services. Such apps would meet the latent demand of Nokia users who do not have such web services on their mobile as an app.
  2. Derivative Apps which build additional layer of functionality on top of another service like Foursquare. These apps would have a better take off in the current scenario as Foursquare itself is not a mobile app on Nokia.
  3. New Apps which are inspired by what is happening elsewhere but are made for unique needs of the target segment. For example, Indian urban users have longer commute times than their global peers and mobile serves multiple needs in these long lonely hours. A good example of an earlier opportunity of similar nature is the Chinese Internet market. Global players were slow in moving in as it was not the first priority and had language challenges. It gave ample time for local innovators to localise what they saw elsewhere and to ramp up. Today Chinese Internet is bigger than English Internet in volume and maybe in some time in value too and is dominated by local players.

Arbitrage Apps, apps that provide the same functionality as another one on another platform, in my opinion is not an opportunity most of the time. First, the original one is always ahead in learning curve due to greater adoption and feedback. Second, in copying the original the developer surrenders mentally and never recovers from that mindset. Third, once the arbitrage app shows traction, the original can start competing by launching on the skipped platform. So, no there isn’t an arbitrage app opportunity.

Image Courtesy: The Mobile Phone 1974 by catmachine

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