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Nokia Plays Up Asha’s Smartphone Cred With New Premium Developer Program

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Nokia’s Asha line of less-expensive smartphones, not developed on Microsoft’s Windows Phone but Nokia’s own proprietary OS, is getting a new boost of attention today. The company is unveiling a new (and free) premium developer program for Asha developers. Modelled on a premium program started for Lumia developers last year, those participating will get extra developer resources, credits towards promoting finished apps in Nokia’s app storefront or via advertising in other apps, and a free device, so that they can boost numbers in the Nokia Store for content made for the Asha line of phones. Nokia tells me that there are now 130,000 apps, ringtones and wallpapers for Asha in the Store already, without breaking out the number of apps compared to other content.

Not only will this help to boost the number of apps in the Nokia store, but it furthers the idea of Asha as the “other” smartphone line being pushed by Nokia — and not just another high-end feature phone. As IHS analyst Ian Fogg noted after seeing the news: “Nokia builds the case for Asha to be considered a smartphone.”

Nokia says that for developers to be considered, there are some criteria to be met. For “stage-one productivity membership” (this includes extra developer support, the free device and expanded remote access), a developer need to have at least two apps built for any mobile platform and currently in any mobile store (not just those run by Nokia itself). For “stage-two” membership (this includes the promotional options of either app store placements or $500 worth of advertising), the developers need to agree to develop and publish at least one app for the Nokia Store to work on an Asha device.

The Lumia premium developer program, Nokia says, has proven to be its most successful developer program ever.

But if Nokia’s Lumia line is considered its “flagship” fleet of smartphones, then the Asha devices are the company’s ever-essential workhorses.

In Nokia’s Q4 results that it reported in January, the company announced 9.3 million Asha devices sold, more than twice the number of Lumia devices (at 4.4 million). While Nokia has been working hard to create Lumia handsets that are stretching ever further into the low cost segment — the most recent being the $180 520 handset unveiled at the Mobile World Congress this year — Asha devices were already there, with devices going for under $100 already unveiled last year.

This fact makes the Asha and ever-more important link in the chain that Nokia has to be careful not to break as it tries to bring its vast population of users in emerging markets on to Nokia smart devices, rather losing them to the rival Android ecosystem as led by Samsung, Huawei and dozens of other handset makers. Samsung in particular has approached the market with an aggressive device strategy across virtually every mobile handset price point (and feature set).

The developer program and its stated purpose to create apps for Asha devices is very much part of that strategy. As Apple has very conclusively proven both with the iPhone and iPad tablet, one of the biggest draws to a particular piece of hardware is the software that you will be able to use on it.

The idea, of course, are for those apps to be quality as well as in quantity. “We want to reward apps that really engage the user,” Kenny Mathers, director of developer programs and monetisation at Nokia, said in a statement. “We’ll be looking for high-quality graphics and user interface, plus great user reviews, with a minimum rating of four stars from at least 25 Nokia Store user reviews.”