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  • 11/25/09 10:02 AM
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    Screen Yorkshire: Nokia Ovi Store Developers Event

    Event Coverage

    Myopic Rhino

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    Tuesday, 17th November 2009 - Leeds

    On a chilly November evening Screen Yorkshire bring us a Nokia-hosted event which featured speakers from Nokia presenting on Nokia's Ovi Store and the Forum Nokia development program for developers. In a series of well-delivered talks that had the right balance of information and marketing pitch, the Nokia team delivered both developers and content creators a single message "we want you".

    Nokia's Business Development Manager Ben Roszczewiski opened the evening with a high-paced session of slides and quick-fire Q&A. Roszczewiski 's primary aim was to explain the Ovi Store and introduce us to Forum Nokia. Following on was Keith Varty, Nokia's Senior Business Development Manager who detailed some of the statistics and information to the UK market. Finally, Forum Nokia's Chief Engineer of Web Technologies Petro Soininen stepped up to deliver some of the more technical information that will be useful to developers.

    Introducing: The Ovi Store

    Many developers, including game developers, have jumped all over the Apple App Store and iPhone over the past couple of years, but as some people are saying, we shouldn't ignore other devices, which account for around 99% of the mobile market. When you consider the size of this market and the recent seismic shifts we've seen in it recently we'd be foolish to ignore it. To highlight how this changing market the Nokia guys showed us the video
    ">"Did You Know 4.0". Convergence is, as they say, happening. Mobile Phones are PCs, PCs are Mobile Phones - developers have a huge range of opportunities available to them now - Nokia are extremely keen to be part of that and want us to join them on the ride with the recent launch of the Ovi Store.

    The Ovi Store is Nokia's equivalent of the App Store but features many different types of content, be it apps in the form of games, tools and entertainment widgets or handset customisation features such as wallpapers, ringtones, icons and themes. Nokia are promising that music and other forms of mobile content will be delivered to us by the Ovi Store in the future.

    The Ovi Store is currently available on around 60 Nokia handsets and will only present apps that can be used on your handset - ensuring that users only get to access content that is compatible with their phones. Nokia were very keen to convey the sheer reach of the Ovi Store - with millions of Nokia handsets in use today, the Ovi Store allows developers to reach out to a potentially huge market.

    At the time of the event, the Ovi Store features around 7,000 apps (including games) for sale, with the current rate of growth seeing approximately 500 new apps added to this each week. Nokia also cited that the Ovi Store has 50% user growth per month, a 70% per month growth in items downloaded and the average of 8 items downloaded per user, per month. Admittedly, the service is in a relatively early stage of its cycle so the growth rates are likely to slow down over time - but in my opinion the appetite is definitely there. It should also be noted that no figures for average sale price were cited by Nokia and that by "items" we must assume that this is of all types of content, not just apps or games. The Nokia team is aware of the various complaints people have about finding content on the Apple App Store and stated that their next biggest challenge going forward is the searching and filtering of "too much content" on their Ovi Store. They are exploring ways of solving these problems for users before the Ovi Store platform hits the size of the App Store.

    Sales from the Ovi Store see revenues being split 70% to the developer and 30% to Nokia - the same split seen in the Apple store. Also like the App Store, developers are free to set their prices and can offer free or paid-for content. When asked by a member of the audience, it was confirmed that at the current time it is not possible to offer a free app with internal monetisation features. He did, however, state that it's something they are "looking into" for the future.

    One interesting difference to Apple's offering that Nokia were keen to push is that the Ovi Store will present apps and content based on your geographic location. So imagine you've just arrived in Paris the store will begin serving up applications with relevance to the geographic area you're in, recommending Parisian restaurant guides or art galleries. Many of the delegates were interested by this concept as the apps and content appeared to be targeted to each user. Nokia are also promoting the integration possibilities of their applications with the Ovi services they offer, such as the Location Services and Map Services that developers can hook into for a wide range of uses. Some such uses can be seen in a Nokia video that we were presented - we saw public transport firms overlaying the position of their trains in real time and so on. As a game developer, it'd be interesting to see some of the map and location services being used to make augmented reality titles or to dynamically match-make with people in your local area.

    Forum Nokia

    After explaining the Ovi Store to us, Nokia moved quickly onto talking about Forum Nokia. Forum Nokia aims to be the "human face" of the huge corporation that is Nokia; they are there to provide advice, support and new opportunities to developers on the Nokia platforms. Forum Nokia is a developer portal and features software downloads, SDKs, testing rigs, device specs, documentation, community forums - you name it, it's most likely to be there if a developer needs it. It's also pretty big, boasting over 4.5 million registered members and 1.5 million unique page hits a month.

    All of the speakers were very keen to push that Forum Nokia is "there" for developers and can offer advice on a range of topics, such as demographics, early information of new handset models, advice on which price point to set for your application and foster intimate relationships to provide the best opportunities for developers. I felt the latter offer was geared towards high-profile developers with a highly popular app, but as the Nokia team said - it's all down to the content that we, as developers, create.

    What came as a huge surprise to the audience was that if you subscribed to Forum Nokia's Launchpad service at 300 Euros a year, Nokia will lend you physical devices for testing and development as long as you "remember to send them back". A 300 Euro subscription is affordable to smaller studios and if it opens up a range of development hardware for free, it can only be a good thing. If you've not signed up for this service, you still get to use the Virtual Device emulators provided online by Forum Nokia so you can still develop for the devices in some capacity without actually possessing one.


    When it comes to developing your app you have a huge choice of Nokia handsets to target. Nokia informed us that the touch-screen devices such as the 5800 and the N97 are, unsurprisingly, leading the way in terms of sales on the Ovi Store and it's likely that these are most attractive platforms for developers. These handsets are more like the iPhone in functionality so would offer game developers some obvious porting options for their titles.

    After choosing your handset you must decide on how you actually want to deliver your content. The choice of options here is pretty vast and ranges from low-level Symbian C++ all the way up to HTML and JavaScript. This is where it gets interesting for developers. The choice of development tool depends on two things, the type (series) of handset used and the size and complexity of your application. The Series 40 handsets allow Java and Flash Lite 3 as their tools of choice. The newer, more beefy, Series 60 models offer the widest range of choice, featuring the Web Runtime (WRT), Flash Lite, Java and Qt. These devices also allow you to get "closer to the metal" and work with the device at a lower level using Symbian C++.

    Simple turn-based games, for example, could be coded using the Web Runtime (WRT), the HTML5 and JavaScript solution. A nice touch of the WRT system was the ability to create "mobile widgets" that integrated into the user's main screen and could minimise to an "at a glance" view. This technology is usable out of the box and appears to be the quickest way for people to get their content onto the devices.

    For more graphics-rich games the developer can choose Flash Lite or look to Java, the Qt framework or even C++. In a simple example we were shown a simple Wolfenstein 3d style game written with Qt that featured a live web browser rendered as a scene object and a realtime editor that could use Qt's scripting language to change how the game behaved. A simple demonstration, but it did show the use of OpenGL ES and the other integrated device APIs, such as the web browser functionality and scripting features of Qt. Nokia are putting a lot of work into exposing a lot of their APIs to the Qt environment and appear to be pushing it as their tool of choice. By the end of 2009 they hope that many of their Ovi and handset-specific services will be accessible from Qt and will therefore allow quicker, simpler application development. Qt can be obtained here - it's worth a look if you've never heard of it before.

    The key thing to remember is that applications need to be Symbian Signed before they can be published to the Ovi Store or deployed to a handset. This is really about protecting the device, the user and your application from being modified or doing something it shouldn't do. Delegates were encouraged to get used to this process before critical deadlines were looming as it can take time to familiarise yourself with the process and any issues that come out of it.

    Ian Weston, a speaker from Majinate was keen to state that the face of mobile development has changed significantly in the past 5 or 6 years and he sees the industry polarising somewhat. Applications have gone from costing hundreds of thousands of pounds and many years to develop to being turned around in a matter of months with a small budget. He sees the polarity between the two, noting that it will always be necessary to code the complex and low level applications but conceding that the smaller/simpler applications are gaining popularity between developers and users alike.


    Nokia presented a very open series of presentations for this event. They are obviously very keen to get developers interested in their platform and selling content on the Ovi Store. Without developers, the Ovi Store won't be as successful as Nokia hope - because of this the team seem to be going out of their way to get us on board. The developer portal Forum Nokia has a wealth of information on it and provides one-to-one contact with Nokia's team. I overheard many of the delegates talking afterwards and they were surprised by the support and information Nokia were offering to us - with several questioning whether we'd see such a frank series of sessions from Apple.

    As a developer, the choice of development language on Nokia devices has evolved beyond the previous option of Java - we've now got a rich choice of tools to use and can go down to a low level if we need to. The Ovi Services available now and by the end of this year provide a wide range of features and allow you to code geographically aware games - even those that access the map features of the device. The clearest thing to us all is that the Ovi Store looks to be fertile ground for game developers and if you're interested, you'll be supported all the way by Forum Nokia.

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