Nokia Hopes Developers Write for Its Branched Android

Eric Zeman, February 26th, 2014

Now that it has adopted Android, Nokia hopes that developers will come running to create apps for its new smartphones. Nokia claims that for app creators to adjust their existing apps to work on the Nokia X, X+, and XL will be no big deal. Nokia has a strong developer-outreach program, but enticing developers to change their apps might be more of a challenge than Nokia thinks.

The big difference between Nokia’s version of Android and Google’s version boils down to the services. Android phones run Google Services, or the core apps that add the “Google” to Google phones. In addition to the Google Play Store, that also means Gmail, Google Search, Google Maps, and many, many more. Nokia’s version of Android requires Microsoft Services and its own app store. Amit Patel, vice president of Developer Relations at Nokia, says that just three APIs define its version of Android: HERE Maps, notification, and in-app payment. Swap out Google Services for these from Nokia, and most apps will be good to go with little additional adjustment.

To prove to developers just how easy it will be to convert their apps, Nokia tested the top 100,000 apps in the Google Play Store on Nokia X smartphones. Nokia claims that 75% of those apps worked perfectly and require no modification to run on Nokia’s phones. Of the 25% that need tweaking, the adjustments can be handled in mere hours by adjusting the APIs listed above.

Why should developers bother? It’s a numbers game. Nokia believes that its Android hardware, to be priced in the $50 to $150 range, will be the developing world’s first smartphone. In fact, Nokia’s tagline for the week was “connecting the next billion.” The opportunity to get an app in front of one billion eyeballs should appeal to developers.

“Developers are interested in reaching more consumers,” said Patel. “With the Nokia X family of devices, we are able to reach new consumers in the affordable smartphone segment. This part of the smartphone [market] is growing four times faster than any other part of the smartphone market, and we are in the best possible shape to capture our share. Brand preference and brand loyalty for Nokia already exist. In essence, we’re going to be able to deliver a large number of consumers to developers very easily.”

To help, Nokia created a tool called the Nokia X Analyzer. Developers can drag their apps and drop them into the Analyzer, which will check the code for compatibility with Nokia’s version of Android. The tool will tell developers what changes, if any, need to be made before they can publish them in the Nokia Store.

Bottom line: Developing for Nokia X devices will take more work — but only a little bit more. Nokia is making it as easy as possible to score the best chances of success not only for developers but also for itself.

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