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PhoneArena joins Nokia’s VP & GM of Developer Experience for dinner at CES 2014

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PhoneArena joins Nokia’s VP & GM of Developer Experience for dinner at CES 2014
Vice President & General Manager, Developer Experience, Bryan Biniak, has shepherded the expansion of Nokia’s and by extension Windows Phone’s application growth in the Windows Store. It is a job that involves both being a geek and a businessman. When Mr. Biniak joined Nokia a little over three years ago, he was part of the mechanism that had to shift gears to adapt Nokia to the Windows Phone platform.

Now, in the foreseeable future, Mr. Biniak will be a part of the combining of talented teams between Nokia and Microsoft. It will not be such an alien task though since these groups have been working together for years.

Initially, we were going to be in a sterile studio with Nokia at their location along the Vegas strip, the “invasion” presence in lieu of an exhibit in the convention center. As the time of our late afternoon time segment approached however, we were instead invited to join the team for some Spanish fare at the Cosmopolitan.

Such a setting made for a much more relaxing and frank discussion about all the things going on in the mobile industry. Right there along the tip of the spear of innovation is the development of applications. Before we discussed the environment of such development though, we thought we would at least ask one obvious question (and receive the obvious answer) to get it out of the way.

How many phones will Nokia introduce in 2014? No comment. With that obvious item covered, we dove into a conversation that reflected on the nuances of the developer experience that Nokia strives for not only with those who develop for the platform, but for customers that use Nokia devices.

While Mr. Biniak did not have any forward looking insight to offer about the pending acquisition of Nokia Devices by Microsoft, he did share some perspective about how the teams have been working together thus far, “We’ve been working with Microsoft for a couple of years, and I think by all measures pretty successfully. I think when you look at the number of applications that were collaboratively brought to the store, we started with only 7,000 apps. Now there are over 200,000. That’s a pretty good track record of collaboration.”

Speaking of one of those apps specifically, an app long sought after by Windows Phone users, and Nokia in particular, was Instagram. One of the things revealed in our discussion with Mr. Biniak was that Nokia was in touch with Instagram before it was acquired by Facebook. “In the case of Instagram, we expected to do a lot with them…and it was a matter of once they commit, they commit.” He reflected that in many cases, working with developers of high-profile apps like Instagram required a lot of patience.

“You can’t do this job without being patient. It’s kind of like interviewing with your future boss. You got to make sure that it’s a fantastic interview because guess what, if it works, and he or she hires you, you got to work with them for a long time. Same thing happens with developers. You need to build a relationship with that developer.” The dynamics involved in promoting application development for a given platform vary greatly.

Yes, that is food being served in a shoe, a trademark of the Jaleo restaurant

Yes, that is food being served in a shoe, a trademark of the Jaleo restaurant

For those that recently purchased a Nokia Lumia 2520 tablet, it is likely you saw or played a new app called Dragons Adventure. This game that connects the player with the outside environment and allows parents to add elements to the game their kid may be playing. The app has been a huge success. “From a standpoint of activation rate, we are over 80%. Of the tablets sold…a significant percentage of them use it on a daily basis. It takes HERE Maps and the real world around you…and generates real time, 3D animated worlds as a map as you’re driving. It doesn’t exist until you’re driving and it appears as an animated product.”

We also talked about how much of a role developer relations plays in influencing the development of the Windows Phone platform over the past couple years, and how that role will change as the relative offerings of Nokia and Microsoft expand once the acquisition is completed. “I think [the role] increases. Today, whenever anyone on my team talks to a developer, we talk about both Lumia and Asha devices. When Microsoft goes in, they talk about all the commercial opportunities. When we become part of that team, they have to be able to talk about our Asha devices, and we have to be able to talk about Azure and Xbox and everything else that they have. It’s going to be exciting for both companies.”

Nokia has built a lot of momentum with its devices, particularly with the recent releases of the Lumia 1020, Lumia 1520 and Lumia 2520. Developers have to work within certain limitations that may be posed by hardware development. Mr. Biniak is confident in the innovative nature of the team at Nokia, “The good news is that there is a whole bunch of people that work at Nokia whose job it is to continue to innovate. This is one of the fastest moving markets in the world, clearly the most competitive and there is billions of dollars at stake. People expect that you are going to do something new all the time. We get feedback from people that set expectations on top of what we set for ourselves. That is at the core of who Nokia is. The last couple of years it’s been about getting the app, now it’s about making the app better. Our goal is to have the apps you care about better on our phones, so our phones, in the eyes of our customers are seen as better than our competitors.”

This notion of having 5-star apps is an important point. One app that has distinguished itself by being available on just about every mobile platform in use today is WhatsApp, the popular instant messaging program. We asked if it was easier working with companies that strive to be everywhere or is it easier when a developer has a distinct focus for a certain platform. “WhatsApp is an interesting company because their singular focus is ‘having the best product possible. Period,’” notes Mr. Biniak. “They push themselves unbelievably hard. It’s a pleasure working with somebody who cares so much about quality and innovation.”

Bryan Biniak does his best pirate

Bryan Biniak does his best pirate

Bryan Biniak shared some parting thoughts about what he feels Nokia has been successful in executing, “One of the things we have been very focused on is not relying on ourselves to make decisions for what Nokia phone owners want. We have really been doing our best to listen and take that guidance of what the app seekers want. If we have the app, [we want to know] what do they want, what do they like, what do they dislike, and how do we make it better. This year is very much going to be about taking that collective feedback and bringing that to the developers.”

We have been in correspondence with the folks at Nokia for a while, and the mood is unwaveringly positive. That is for good reason, and Mr. Biniak is a guy who took the job because of the geek factor, but he is also an enthusiast for the customer too, “We want to make sure that if you have a Lumia phone or an Asha phone today, that you love it and you stick with us forever. If you don’t [own a Nokia], we want to give you a good reason to switch.”

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