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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

January 8, 2010 at 11:09 AM

CES: Nokia announces $1M challenge to make app for developing world

LAS VEGAS — Nokia announced a $1 million competition for developers to make mobile applications to improve the lives of people living on less than $5 day. The winner of the Venture Challenge will be announced in June and receive a $1 million investment from the Finnish maker of mobile phones.

President and Chief Executive Olla-Pekka Kallasvuo made the announcement at the morning keynote on this second day of the Consumer Electronics Show, turning the talk from the latest gadgets to upward mobility in emerging markets. The message was a refreshing dose of humility at a conference often relentlessly focused on making people buy bigger televisions.

“I want to put our money where our mouth is,” said Kallasvuo. “We want you to come up with new ways to improve people’s lives and encourage upward mobility around the world.”

Details of the competition can be found here. The deadline to enter is April 18.

Kallasvuo also talked about lessons learned in selling phones in developing countries.

“To a tenant farmer in India or a merchant, $32 is substantial. For some, it can be more than a month’s income. Yet that merchant or farmer will save and pool their money to buy this,” he said. “This humbles me. That people who have so little decide to invest their hard earned money in us.”

Nokia featured video from its joint venture with Lonely Planet, The Progress Project, chronicling how mobile phones are changing people’s livelihood in India. For instance, textile sellers are placing orders with their phones, which used to take days. Lonely Planet reporter Frances Linzee Gordon, who said Nokia gave her complete editorial freedom, said, “It is not exaggeration to say something of a social revolution is happening around us.”

Jan Chipchase, who Kallasvuo called the Indiana Jones of Nokia, shared innovation he had discovered traveling to a monastery in Mongolia, Afghanistan and western China. “As representative of our large global company do we have the right to be there?” he asked.

Chipchase said adversity and scarcity have sparked innovation in unexpected places. In India, he found a shop that had hacked a SIM card so that two cards can fit in a single slot. Another shop had set up a way to load mobile apps on memory cards.

“We’re playing catchup with these corner app shops,” he said. “To be prepared for our future, we all need to listen and think and not jump to conclusions about our customer.”

It’s hard to say how far this message will reverberate within the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, where Dr. Dre and Lady Gaga both showed up Wednesday to hawk electronic wares, and Kid Rock performed at a corporate party hosted by Qualcomm and Swagg. I tweeted from the concert and posting distant blurry pics at www.twitter.com/sharonpianchan.

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