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Nokia loosens reins for developers

The handset maker is changing the way it deals with software developers, in what is widely seen as an effort to stave off a growing challenge from Microsoft.

Nokia is changing the way it deals with software developers, in what is widely seen as an effort to stave off a growing challenge from Microsoft.

The world's largest handset maker will soon introduce "tiering," a process by which developers get faster and wider access to Nokia's proprietary cell phone operating software, the more they pay, Lee Epting, a Nokia vice president, said in an interview on Thursday.

The Finnish company is also revamping developer access to application programming interfaces (APIs) and is joining forces with other handset makers and Sun Microsystems to streamline software certification for products.

The goal of the changes, Epting said, is to answer the most-heard complaints from the 1.3 million developers that have downloaded the software tools needed to create software applications on Nokia phones.

But some analysts see it as a defensive maneuver as well, to fend off a challenge from a cell phone operating system from Microsoft. In the next few years, Microsoft's Smartphone software is expected to be the chief rival to Symbian, an operating system for advanced cell phones that has financial backing from Nokia.

Both Nokia and Microsoft have put more emphasis on working with mobile developers in recent years, turning to them more often to create software programs for services that cell phone service providers can sell to their customers.

A Microsoft representative said the company's mobile software developer program has also been overhauled in the past two years. The representative declined to comment specifically on the planned Nokia changes.

As part of the shift, Nokia is accelerating how often it makes APIs available, according to Epting. APIs are the software keys that developers need to make their programs work on handsets.

"These are programs that Nokia really needs," Epting said.

Another big change takes place in the next few weeks, when Sun and a group of handset makers--Nokia, Siemens, Motorola and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications--will open centers where developers can get their software certified. The certification will apply to phones from any of the phone makers involved, and developers will only have to go through one series of tests, Epting said.

For now, cell phone software downloads are mainly limited to 99-cent ring tones and $4 games. While carriers are beginning to show signs of significant revenue from these inexpensive wireless add-ons, they've yet to show much success with the more-expensive business applications, carriers have reported.