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Nokia picks Polar to build 300 mobile apps

Nokia Corp. is turning to Toronto-based app developer Polar Mobile Group Inc. to build more than 300 mobile apps for its current and future smart phones, as the world's largest handset maker tries to regain relevance in the next-generation mobile device market.

The deal, to be announced Wednesday, is one of the largest in Polar's history. The first 50 apps, to be released in the next two months, will run on Nokia's Symbian operating system, which powers several of its existing line of phones. Polar will also develop apps for the MeeGo platform.

Much of Polar's development work will focus on Windows Phone apps, as Nokia prepares to transition its smart phone line to Microsoft's operating system in a bid to offer a compelling alternative to iPhones, Android phones and BlackBerrys.

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"Nokia is the largest handset manufacturer in the world," Polar Mobile CEO Kunal Gupta said. "With smart phones, they're hungry for a comeback."

So far, Nokia's efforts in the smart phone market have shown little success. The handset maker saw a 30 per cent year-over-year drop in smart phone shipments during the second quarter of this year, dropping to third over all by market share, according to research firm IDC. During the same period, the top two manufacturers by market share, Apple and Samsung, saw their shipments jump 141 and 380 per cent respectively.

Many of the 300 media brands for which Polar will develop apps as part of the Nokia deal are already existing customers – Polar's business model relies on building apps for the same customer on various platforms. The model has proven especially lucrative in the fast-changing mobile market, as many companies look to hedge their bets by maintaining an app presence on as many different devices as possible. Previously, Polar signed similar bulk-app deals with Microsoft and Research In Motion, as both companies looked to quickly expand their app offerings to better compete with Apple and Google.

Among the customers involved in the Nokia deal are Wired U.K., Shanghai Daily and The Globe and Mail.

For Polar, the deal is a means to expand globally. Although Nokia's share of the North American smart phone market is relatively tiny, the company is still the world's largest producer of handsets, and maintains a significant presence in regions such as Asia and the Middle East, where Polar has been trying to gain a foothold.

For Nokia, Polar's one-size-fits-all approach to app-building, which results in an extremely quick turnaround for the development of mobile software, helps the phone maker quickly build a library of apps for its various operating systems. Most importantly, Polar's existing base of Windows Phone apps is a boon to Nokia, which will soon stake its future on Microsoft's mobile operating system.

"We need to increase [the size of] our app store with quality apps," said Richard White, general manager of Nokia's Canadian operations. "This is obviously a great way to go about doing that."

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