Almost any discussion about competing with the Apple iPhone includes apps. Nobody can touch Apple's App Store when it comes to the sheer number and variety of apps. But Microsoft and Nokia are sure going to try.
The companies plan to invest $24 million over the next three years into a mobile app development program at Aalto University. The AppCampus program aims to foster the creation of innovative mobile applications for Windows Phone and other Nokia platforms, including Symbian and Series 40.
"We want to turn a new leaf in the mobile industry and foster Finland's role as a center of excellence for mobile technology," said Klaus Holse, president of Microsoft Western Europe. "Such investment into early-stage concepts has rarely been seen in this sector, and this demonstrates how highly both Nokia and Microsoft value Finnish mobile expertise."
Microsoft Gets Aggressive
The initiative kicks off in May. Aalto University will lead and manage the program. The university has a reputation as a hotbed of new startup companies. AppCampus hopes to attract thousands of application proposals from students and entrepreneurs from all over the world.
The AppCampus program will offer support, training in mobile technology, design and usability, and funding to create innovative mobile apps and services. Mobile industry veterans will mentor program participants, offering them insights and coaching to help them commercialize their ideas without giving up intellectual property rights.
Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, called the program a smart move by Microsoft and Nokia. The best part, he said, is that the applications that come out of the program are exclusive to Microsoft and Nokia platforms.
"Windows Phone is a wonderful operating system with a rapidly growing application store. But when you compare it to iOS or Android they are certainly behind," Greengart said. "It's entirely possible in terms of sheer numbers that they may never catch up, but if you can get enough of the important apps -- and Microsoft has been very aggressive on that front."
Getting Exclusive Content
One example of Microsoft's aggressiveness is Angry Birds Space. When the latest edition of Angry Birds debuted on Apple and Android operating systems, it did so with a note indicating that Windows Phone 7 was not on the development list. By the afternoon, there was a statement saying Windows Phone is next on the development list.
"Putting money out there to try to get developers to create unique content for Windows phones that perhaps goes to other platforms later -- or potentially just stays on Windows phones -- is something that would make the platform overall more valuable," Greengart said.
"We have seen this tactic with game consoles, where you have exclusive title and you have titles that cross platforms. The game console vendors work very hard to ensure they have a critical mass of exclusive content but it also shows that this sort of fund is needed for mobile apps."