An exclusive behind the scenes look at AppCampus, the joint venture between Nokia, Microsoft and Aalto University
Windows Phone Central was invited to travel to Espoo, Finland and check out the magic that occurs at AppCampus. You may already be familiar with the name — we’ve covered the program in the past — and how Microsoft and Nokia are working together with Aalto University to help build new content for Windows Phone.
As lightly touched on above, the project aims to offer developers and entrepreneurs the opportunity to get cracking on ideas and turn them into apps for the Windows Phone store. Some of the top apps and games you download from the store will have gone through this very program. So, what's it all about?
First of all, we’d like to pass on a massive thank you to Pekka Sivonen, Mike Bradshaw, Paolo Borella, Teija Laine and the rest of the team for inviting us along and making everything possible.
Spending two days with the team and this current batch of developers, we were provided an insight into what occurs on a daily basis with an itinerary that includes one-on-one sessions, lectures and more. The Thursday we were present at the AppCademy building, Alan Mendelevich from AdDuplex gave a speech to the teams about promotion and how to market apps. It’s all covered.
The Angry Birds room. Yes, Rovio is rather big in Finland, apparently.
Even if you’re not a developer (or someone who’s considering app development), this insight is well worth checking out to see exactly what Microsoft and its partners are doing to drive innovation and development for Windows Phone as a platform.
So, what’s AppCampus all about?
AppCampus, as the name would suggest, is a campus for app developers to gather and receive coaching from experts in the field. The program is funded by Microsoft, Nokia and Aalto University (€21 million in total), offering a unique experience for not only entrepreneurs, but also start-ups to get the support they require in taking an idea and turning it into a successful venture.
AppCampus Head, Pekka Sivonen gives a talk about the project in a branded onesie.
It’s no secret that it takes more than just an app or game to make it into the mobile phone app stores of today. Gone were the days where you’d automatically receive thousands of downloads and pocket a nice sum of cash for your troubles. Developers of today are tasked with not only developing content, but also marketing and promoting their work.
This is where the project comes in. More than just an accelerator, the AppCampus program provides one of three grants to developers, depending on the uniqueness of the concept, execution and development. Looking at a number of criteria, including the team, complexity of solution, innovation aspect and potential for growth, the available grants are:
- €20,000 - Relatively simple (standalone) applications
- €50,000 - Application which requires interfacing with some existing network (cloud) based service/media/information
- €70,000 - App includes development of network (cloud) service back-end, and interfacing with it
The important point to take away with AppCampus is each project does not require a revenue share to be agreed on, and the IPRs remain property of the developers. The only requirement is for the app (or game) to be exclusive to the Windows Phone platform for 3 months (only for mobile platforms - can still be on web, Xbox, TV, etc). It's a small ask for the sheer amount of support, tools and access available in the program.
It all starts at the beginning. Developers get in touch with the team, submit their ideas and wait for approval. AppCampus has a team of personnel who deal with the submissions, working with potential candidates to refine and develop their concept before being approved. Should the applicant be successful, they’ll be put through to work with AppCampus and secure one of the available grants.
The most promising teams and those with ambition are invited to the AppCademy (where we travelled to in Finland) with travel expenses and basic accommodation paid for. It’s not a bad deal, considering what’s on offer on-site.
How the program helps developers
Spending just 48 hours in Finland and two days at the AppCademy, it’s clear to see why it works and how they manage to pump out quality content for consumers to enjoy. Not only do developers head to Finland to turn their concepts into reality, but they’re also receiving one-to-one sessions with coaches present. This time helps the developers and entrepreneurs develop key skills to be successful in the competitive app market.
Valerio Pullano, Giulia Scifoni, Justine Silipo and Edouard Wawra of Gamepix
AppCampus seeks both developers and entrepreneurs, each brining unique skill and specialties to the table. Should they have areas for improvement, this is where the coaches help educate the teams with product-orientated assistance. To help the teams succeed, AppCampus utilises professional software development processes & quality assurance. Network and marketing, along with Windows Phone Store and Nokia Store support is also covered.
The building itself is open, with multiple companies based alongside one another. Taking up a large proportion of the third floor, "AppSpace" is a 1,000sqm open plan environment with focus on collaboration, as well as individual development. There’s everything present to survive a harsh Finnish winter, including two kitchens and other facilities. Oh, and when there’s that time you wish for some alone time, the quiet room comes in handy. Designed by Finnish designer Esa Santamäki, it's certainly a workspace you'd actually enjoy working in.
Did we mention 4G LTE? Nokia Solutions and Networks (NSN) has installed the technology at Aalto University.
The environment is rather relaxed, but there’s never a moment when someone is technically doing nothing. There’s seemingly always something to do. Once at the Aalto University, those participating in the program have to continue through the process, which is detailed below:
The AppCampus process as a whole
As highlighted in the above slide, the process starts as soon as the submission is sent through and approved. In total, 20 teams are invited to the campus for 4 weeks of training and support after the approval stage. That's just one month. There's not a whole lot of time on offer, which is why it can sometimes be rather hectic to get everything covered. Here’s what is provided for AppCademy teams:
- €1000 travel expense
- New device (Nokia Lumia 925)
- Free lodging
- Some food (who needs it, eh?)
- Covers two people
"Foundbite was one of the first apps approved on the program and we travelled out to Finland for the first AppCademy last November. This was a great opportunity to meet other like-minded developers, receive valuable coaching and make useful contacts within Microsoft and Nokia.
Being part of the program and the funding Mendzapp has received through AppCampus has meant I am now working full-time developing Foundbite, something that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise."
James Mundy, Mendzapp
While at the AppCademy, developers are put through intense training, including multiple lectures, workshops and hands-on experiences. While we were only present for two days, it was obvious how hard each team was working, pouring in the hours and reaping the benefits of a qualified team of support personnel.
We’ve touched on the basics that are covered at AppCademy, as well as the team whose job it is to mentor the teams, but what topics are the developers and entrepreneurs taught?
- Branding & Positioning
- Design & UX Excellence
- Development & QA
- Monetization & Distribution
- Marketing & Communications
- Pitching & Fundraising
- Customer Development
We were present along with local media to see some demo pitches
As noted above, it’s much more than simple developer assistance as many would automatically assume. AppCademy prepares the teams for situations and problems they will face once their work is live and they’ve turned their concept into a business. As we’ve touched on numerous times in the past, developers can’t simply publish apps and be done with it. There’s also support, marketing, distribution, pitching, customer development and more.
It’s not all work and no play, though. The day before we arrived, the AppCampus crew and developer teams went to Båtvik, the Nokia Training center (approximately 50km to the west of AppSpace, on the coast). The day consisted of talks from Nokia folk (Care, GoToMarket and Privacy & Security), as well as a smoke sauna (savusauna) in the evening. Not bad.
Developers and the AppCampus team after a day trip to Nokia’s Båtvik Training Center
Both Nokia and Microsoft are involved to ensure tools and services are available for developers to take full advantage of. Each team is provided the following:
- Membership to the Premium Developer Program – to all projects: includes up to $1500 value access to Windows Phone Developer Center, Telerik RadControls UI Suite, Buddy.Com Cloud API’s and Two Tech Support Tickets.
- Tools to promote Apps* — Marketing Guides, Digital Marketing Toolkit, Create pro-quality videos, websites, Facebook tabs.
- Nokia Ad Exchange* — Access top 120 ad networks with full cross-platform support, payment in 200+ countries, smart, contextual servicing, allowing developers to manage their own promotions.
* denotes offer is subject to agreement.
Once developers have developed their app and have a complete understanding surrounding all topics and areas covered by the program, they’re then unleashed into the wild with their published app / game and provided grant. The next step is to get put everything they’ve learnt to the test and make it big in the mobile app industry.
Thinking of applying?
If you’re looking to apply, that’s fantastic news. We strongly recommend you check out material available on the AppCampus website (www.appcampus.fi), as well as other resources. For example, the ideal criteria for submissions is as follows:
- Differentiation: a brand new app that is not available in any mobile app store, OR an existing app on iOS/Android with differentiated features on Windows Phone (please see next question and look at Key Features we warmly welcome).
- Mass market appeal: potential to generate a high number of downloads (more than 0,5 million per year) and/or revenue (tens of thousands of EUR)
- Experienced mobile developer: has experience building apps on one of the main mobile platforms (iOS/Android/WP) with demonstrated design, technical and business capabilities.
- Convincing Overall Proposal: app design, technical solution, business model.
As well as the above, you should also look at including highlighted features in your concept, which Windows Phone is surely capable of as a platform. These are conveniently supplied on the AppCampus website. Remember: the more unique your concept is, the better chance it has of standing out.
Here's a handy slide that shows some statistics of the AppCampus program, regarding submissions:
What does AppCampus do for consumers?
It’s all well and dandy talking about the program for developers and those who wish to essentially make a living off their ideas, but what about consumers? The project provides a lot for the Windows Phone community – quality content. Smartphone owners arguably use apps and games from app stores more than anything else on the handset, and since Windows Phone is still lagging behind in app numbers, this program aims to fill gaps with only the best deployments.
Can you get involved in some way? Absolutely! Check out the apps published by the teams through the program. See which ones take to your liking and download them. Try them out, leave reviews, fire some feedback to the developers and share the word with friends and others online — just like you would with any developer on the Windows Phone platform.
The AppCampus program continues for another few years, so we can expect to see numerous more apps and games to come through. While we were present at the AppSpace, it was exciting to see the level of quality, the scope, imagination, concept and ambition on show. It was really impressive to see exactly how AppCampus mentors the teams, providing tools, services and knowledge. This is all so consumers (you guys) have a better experience with your smartphone.
Lastly, it shows how Nokia, Microsoft and Aalto University are working to secure new content for Windows Phone, as well as look at future innovations with app / game ideas.
Some of the results
A collection of stickies naming all the apps and games published
What’s a program like AppCampus without results? There are numerous apps and games available on the Windows Phone Store today that are the product of the joint effort from Nokia, Microsoft and Aalto University. We’ve covered some of them in the past, but here are a handful to jog the memory:
SongArc is a recent gem that was mined from the depths of AppCampus. Sporting incredibly addictive gameplay and being one of the (if not the) best rhythm based games available for Windows Phone, it's a must-have for any music fan. You're tasked with hitting the notes as they fly down the screen and accumulate the most points. You can download SongArc from the Windows Phone Store.
Tawkable Chinese is an interesting game for Windows Phone. The app essentially helps you learn Mandarin Chinese by wrapping language lessons up in an adventure game. It's a neat concept and works well. You can also add other words later on to help you better your understanding of the language. You can grab Tawkable Chinese from the Windows Phone Store.
That's just a teaser. You can find out all the games and apps that have been published through the program over on the AppCampus website.
AppCampus social links: