x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Nokia to host 'pitch your app' competition at Dubai tech forum

The rules of the contest are simple: you have two minutes to sell your idea for a new Nokia smartphone application, which must have relevance to the GCC market, to a panel of experts.

How can a company with a long track record of delivering innovation first - in a sector that favours revolution over evolution - not be considered the best in market? How can a corporation that outsells its closest rival by more than six to one be written off as a fading force? Both these questions hang wearily over Nokia, the mobile phone giant, which once laid claim to 40 per cent of the worldwide market for mobile handsets.

In truth, the company's predicament is far better than the gloom and doom-mongers would have you believe. Nokia outperformed analysts' profit forecasts earlier this year and its market share remains at 29 per cent. The company sold a creditable 108 million handsets in the first three months of 2011, a long, long way ahead of Apple.

But these figures mask some unsettling realities: Nokia's best-selling products are both low margin and lost-cost, while in the key smartphone segment the company has been overrun by BlackBerry and Apple. And no wonder. BlackBerry's proposition values an admirable functionality above all else, while Apple delivers both form and function. And Nokia? It is hard to say. Their products have lacked a "killer-app" for some time - business has suffered accordingly.

All of which should make the forthcoming Gitex Shopper exhibition a decent spectacle.

The consumer electronics show, which opens in Dubai tomorrow, will play host to an intriguing event in its Nokia Lounge on Tuesday. It is there that today's visionaries will be attempting to create the products of the future in a "pitch your app" competition.

The rules of the contest are simple: you have two minutes to sell your idea for a new Nokia smartphone application, which must have relevance to the GCC market, to a panel of experts. And you must do so with enthusiasm, rather than attempting to blind anyone with science: presenters are forbidden from using any electronic aids during their pitch (oh, the irony of such old-school rules in a high-tech competition). In return, Nokia will provide three winners with a package of cash and technical assistance to help coax their dreams into reality.

Apps, of course, are almost wholly the preserve of Apple, so it's nice to see Nokia playing the opposition at their own game.

Apple has built its business and, indeed, its handsome profits, on consistently being the best, rather than first, in market. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 marked the moment when sales of Nokia smartphones began to slip into sharp decline.

Apps too, were not the invention of Apple, although they were popularised and monetised by the brand. Ditto the tablet sector, foretold by the Palm Pilot, commercialised by the iPad. But is this last product about to be overrun by a better and significantly cheaper alternative?

Last week, Amazon unveiled the Kindle Fire, its next-generation, colour-screen offering. Like Apple, Amazon is perceived as an innovator. The company reinvented the books business, is credited with creating a viable online retail model for the entire internet and later, via its first tablet, helped millions carry vast quantities of books in the palm of their hands.

The new Kindle Fire will give its owners access to an unrivalled resource of digital content - not just books, but movies, TV shows and music, too. Only in its apps store does its commercial proposition significantly trail its rival.

But will this be enough to topple Apple? Will we be wondering about the Cupertino giant in a decade's time, just as we wonder about the future of Nokia today? That seems farfetched, although the post-Steve Jobs world of Apple appears open to challenge, a fact underlined by Tuesday's fumbled launch of the latest iPhone.

What is certain is the Fire will take the fight to the iPad and that is a good thing. Competition breeds innovation - you'll see that at Gitex this week - and commercial challenges help foster creativity in the marketplace.