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David Zax

A View from David Zax

$12 Million for a Windows Phone App Ecosystem

Microsoft and Nokia pony up. Who needs Angry Birds?

  • March 28, 2012

It hasn’t been the best week for the Windows Phone, which got a tad of egg on its face following a botched “Smoked by a Windows Phone” challenge in Santa Clara, CA. But more encouraging news also emerged this week for the Windows Phone ecosystem–this bit of news hailing from Helsinki, Finland, where Microsoft’s partner Nokia is based. “To drive innovation and business opportunities in Finland’s mobile ecosystem and beyond, Microsoft Corp. and Nokia will each invest up to 9 million euros into a newly established mobile application development program at Aalto University during the next three years,” reads a press release. That’s about $12 million bucks, potentially times two, all in an effort to make Microsoft/Nokia phones synonymous with cool apps.

It’s been said time and again that a robust apps economy is crucial to winning marketshare to a given operating system. This is why companies like Microsoft spend so much time and money trying to win the hearts and minds of developers, giving out free devices en masse at conferences, for example. This latest announcement is another salvo in that ongoing battle.

The program will be based in Finland and led and managed by Aalto University, “which has a growing reputation as a hotbed of new startup companies,” says Aalto (as it might). The program kicks off in May of this year, and the hope is that “thousands” of application proposals from students and entrepreneurs worldwide will try to get a piece of that Micosoft/Nokia (Microkia? Nokiasoft?) cash.

The launch event for the program was significant enough that the Finnish prime minister, Jyrki Katainen, came to make remarks. “Finland is an early-adopter market, and the significance of national education and technology innovation is deeply rooted in our culture,” he said, in a quote that makes a curious mash-up of campaign rhetoric and PR buzzspeak. “As a result, there is a growing appetite for entrepreneurship among the younger generation at Aalto University and beyond. The partnership between Microsoft and Nokia is a critical investment in this growing ecosystem and represents an exciting opportunity and access to global markets for our local startup community.”

What’s ironic is that one of the great app success stories–indeed, perhaps the great app success story–is already a Finnish one. Rovio, the makers of the ridiculously popular app Angry Birds, is a Finnish company. There was a bit of a kerfuffle recently when a Rovio employee said the company didn’t have plans to bring the latest Angry Birds offering, Angry Birds Space, to Windows Phone. Bloomberg called this a “possible blow to handset maker Nokia,” and the way the tech press reacted, you might’ve expected Finland to be poised to erupt into civil war. But Rovio’s CEO shortly thereafter hopped on the line with Reuters to explain that it was all a big understanding, and that Angry Birds Space would be coming to Windows Phone–at some unspecified future date. 

Meanwhile, even NASA scientists will continue to literally play Angry Birds in space.

At any rate, it looks like Nokia and Microsoft would feel better if they had a degree of app independence, rather than rely on the good will (or patriotism) of the likes of Rovio. Though independence from Rovio may be impossible to achieve, at this point. To judge from how frequently I see people playing Angry Birds on the New York subway, it seems fair to say that for many people, a Birds-less app store could be an actual deal-breaker when mulling a phone purchase.

Myself, I can’t much tolerate the famous app or its projectile fowls. I find it a silly waste of time. 

The discerning smartphone gamer plays Cut the Rope.

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