Developer Strategy for Nokia X and Symbian Apps

It would be an understatement to say that the Nokia X series did not go as planned. Released in February 2014, the series was cancelled in July of the same year following Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia. While total sales figures for the Nokia X series are not available, it is known that at least 16 million devices were shipped in 2014.  An estimated 10 million were sold during pre-order, theoretically including up to 4 million in China.

While the intention here is to focus on Nokia X, much of what can be said applies equally (or even more) to all Nokia/Symbian devices.  While not the largest app market, it is large – and tackled properly, even Nokia X can represent an “economy of scale.”  There are many different marketing strategies, but let us boil them down to two basic ones:

  1. Follow the crowd – compete for a small piece of a big pie.
  2. Avoid the crowd – compete for a large piece of a small pie.

The Nokia X and Symbian markets are examples of that second strategy. Many developers have dismissed the entire Nokia X and Symbian markets because they are smaller than the huge Android market. That is actually good news for mobile app developers able to see the marketplace in strategic terms and who are more opportunistic in their development efforts.

The Pros of the Nokia X and Symbian markets outweigh the Cons, quite substantially.

There are two primary downsides to the Nokia X and Symbian markets. First, it is a smaller market. Second, it is somewhat more difficult to monetize. We will come back to that second point shortly.

The following points can all be construed as favorable and beneficial for Nokia/Symbian developers:

  • Opera Mobile Store is the default app store for almost ALL Nokia devices
  • Fewer Nokia/Symbian apps to compete against compared to Android and iOS markets
  • Lower advertising costs relative to Android and iOS markets
  • Develop and Test for fewer total devices
  • About 70-75% of Android apps are compatible with Nokia X
  • Easier to develop customer loyalty if you have multiple apps
  • Potential to retain customers when they upgrade from their Nokia devices
  • Developing markets are typically growing faster than developed markets
  • No cost to register your apps on Opera Mobile Store

I don’t have present figures, but a total of about 120,000 apps were developed for Symbian – with 1.6 million apps designed for Android and another 1.5 million for iOS. Of those 120,000 Symbian apps, many are no longer in circulation and many others are not being actively updated or upgraded.

The point here is that competition in the Android and iOS markets is intense and you are competing against some of the largest developers in the industry.  That’s not your only option – and not necessarily your smartest option.

Nokia X was an effort to make an affordable full-feature smartphone for people living mainly in developing markets. That directly implies that most are not likely to have credit cards, Paypal accounts, or a lot of discretionary spending money. So, yes – it is more difficult to monetize apps with this target market.

I’ve heard it said that people in developing markets don’t buy anything… That is absolutely NOT true, as for starters they purchased a $100 smartphone. It may be more accurate to say, that at least in the past, many could not make online purchases owing to the paywall. Payments via mobile carrier have and will continue to offset this obstacle.


It is fairly consistent throughout the mobile app market that the vast majority of app revenues (aside from in-app advertising) are derived from a small minority of users. This follows the Pareto Principle quite closely wherein the “convention” is that 80% of the market sticks to free to play; but 20% are likely to buy something (that 80% of revenues come from 20% of your end-users).

The super-user segment focuses on the top 20% of that top 20% – essentially, your top 4-5% of paying end-users will likely be responsible for 65% of your in-app store/upgrade revenues. When you have a large base of end-users, you may also see that there’s a sub-1% user group responsible for nearly half of your revenues.

Free to Play and In-App Advertising

Most app developers are still generating some portion of their revenues from in-app advertising on a free to play basis. That strategy is well-suited to Nokia X/Symbian market and vastly simplifies your marketing effort.

For starters, you need only have your app on Opera Mobile Store to be accessible to the vast majority of active Nokia X/Symbian users. Registering on Opera Mobile Store is free, unlike Google Play or the App Store. The greatest results, as one might suspect is getting your app into the Top Section – easier than you may think.

Lifetime of Customer and Cost of Acquisition

It should be remembered that the Nokia X line was introduced as an entry-level device, with the long-term interest of Nokia X users upgrading to Lumia devices. For developing countries, the lifespan of a device can run from 6 to 10 years – from what we’ve observed historically. Sooner or later, mobile users will upgrade their smartphones – probably to Android or iOS. A bit of strategic planning and development can help you retain your Nokia/Symbian customers when they do go to upgrade.

A little bit of trivia may get you to thinking about the benefits of long-term planning – In the 1970’s, average wages in Singapore were around $600 per year; today – average wages run nearly $62,000 considering purchasing power parity. Median wage in the United States is about $51,000, in comparison. Perhaps the easiest way to big-time success comes from being the first to get established in a market where no one else or few are competing.

Contact our Business Developers to see how easily you can get your Nokia X and Symbian apps into the Top Apps on Opera Mobile Store.

Project Manager at the Opera Mobile Store providing Sales-Marketing support. Content development and research.

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