Nokia Brews Up Its Own Content-Distribution System
By Carlo Longino, Mon Oct 25 18:45:00 GMT 2004

The handset giant has announced an operator-brandable end-to-end content distribution system in an effort to satisfy the needs of developers, carriers and end users.

Qualcomm's BREW has been successful not because of any inherent advantages over Java or other platforms, but because the business model works for developers. A certified BREW application can be easily picked up by any of the three dozen or so operators using the platform, with developers seeing consolidated payment through the BREW ecosystem. Support for Java in the latest iteration of BREW is a tacit admission that its strength is the ecosystem, not the development platform.

Much of the content aggregation and distribution in the GSM world has been left to third-party distributors like Handango or PowerByHand, but Nokia's looking to create a system that lets everyone thrive with its Preminet solution: carriers are presented with a catalog of content from which they can select apps to offer their users, along with a brandable download client; developers have to just submit their application one time and it can be picked up by any participating operator, and Preminet provides a framework for content providers and carriers to negotiate a price and handles billing and payment; and of course, Nokia takes a cut of content sales.

While those third-party content distributors have established licensed, co-branded software catalogs of their own, Nokia is a unique position because, like Qualcomm, it can integrate Preminet with the developer-support functions it offers through Forum Nokia. Preminet will also only carry Java Verified and Symbian Signed applications, unlike the third-party portals, an important attraction for carriers who must provide the customer support. But, like Nokia's increased ownership in Symbian, the control Preminet offers the company over content distribution could make some people uncomfortable.

Assuming carriers and developers are okay with putting content distribution in the hands of Nokia, Preminet should be a boon to the Java/Symbian developer world. There are a few aspects of BREW it would be wise to avoid, however. Developers make a lot of noise about the significant initial investment required to get into the BREW system, with $10,000 the most commonly cited amount, for development support and testing. It's unclear how developers will react to Preminet pricing -- Nokia's marketing materials say Java verification starts at $200, and Symbian Signed testing costs $400 per year plus $700 for the initial test of any application. But it says developers must also join the Forum Nokia PRO program, to the tune of EUR 3000 per year, which could still be a significant outlay for small developers.

But the biggest drawback to BREW is how many carriers that use it lock their handsets and prevent users from installing anything on them from any source other than the operator's shop, or even making it nearly impossible to get any data (like photos) off the phone other than through carrier-approved applications. Given the openness inherent in the Series 60 and other smartphone platforms, it's doubtful Nokia would take this route, as it, more than anything could preclude Preminet's acceptance.