CES 2010: Nokia's Push to Democratize the Smartphone

LAS VEGAS -- Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo's keynote address here today at the Consumer Electronics Show focused exclusively on the importance -- both economically and socially -- of bringing mobile devices and mobile applications to emerging countries to improve their economies and their way of life.

Putting his company's money where his mouth is, Kallasvuo concluded his remarks by announcing the Nokia Growth Economy Venture Challenge, a contest of sorts that asks the developer community to come up with an application or service that will promote upward mobility around the world.

The winner will receive a $1 million investment from Nokia, a tactic that Netflix used to help it improve the accuracy of its movie recommendation applications.

The ground rules require that the winning submission not only be utilitarian in nature, but also must be of use to people in the world earning an average of less than $5 a day. Nokia will announce the winner in June.

"We can good business and do good at the same time," Kallasvuo said. "Business opportunities abound in these rapidly growing markets. Mobile communications will play a big role in bringing hope and a higher standard of living to billions of people."

Nokia and other technology titans are increasingly investing their time, money and research efforts to promote sustainability both within their organizations and throughout their customer and supplier communities.

Nokia, which claims more than 1.2 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, will wield its considerable communications influence in new ways in 2010, Kallasvuo said.

In the first half of this year, Nokia will debut Nokia Money, an application and service that will allow people in emerging markets who don't have ready access to banks and ATMs to conduct transactions through their mobile devices. The goal is to offer the service on multiple devices from various vendors and not confine it to any single carrier.

"Nearly 4.6 billion people have mobile phone subscriptions," he said. "But only 1.6 billion people have bank accounts. Much of the world doesn't have access to these basic services. Now, they won't have to travel hundreds of miles or wait in lines for hours to securely manage their money anywhere and get paid anywhere."

Throughout the presentation, Kallasvuo hammered home the amount of time and research Nokia has spent in far-flung places such as Mongolia, Afghanistan and Indonesia, immersing its researchers in these cultures to understand their technical limitations and document their impressive innovation.

"It humbles me ... the idea that people who have so little invest their hard-earned money in our products," he said. "These are the most critical and discerning consumers on the planet by virtue of necessity."

There's also plenty of less-than-altruistic reasons to embrace these emerging markets, particularly for wireless devices that cost as little as $32 each (as much as month's salary in many parts of the world) and can easily fit in a person's pocket.

"We all have to think about multiples that we're not used to thinking about in the West," he said. "The need for apps for the devices is growing but it shouldn't blind us to this large, untapped market in these less than affluent economies."

Kallasvuo points out that Nokia's Life Tools application, which delivers agriculture information and education services for emerging markets such as India and China, costs only a $1 month -- a price that less affluent customers are happy to pay to improve to sell, buy and trade goods in their local economies.

"But think about $1 a month times 700 million people," he said.


wireless, mobile, developers, Nokia, CES 2010