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August 28, 2008

Nokia Beta Labs polishes small cogs in big wheel

GLOBAL – I recently chatted with Tommi Vilkamo, the modest man heading up Nokia’s equally modest Beta Labs division, and was intrigued to discover the vision behind it and what the future holds for Beta Labs.

Equally as fascinating was an insight into how Beta Labs has been and is being used as a testing ground for bite-size apps and tools that can get polished to perfection (as possible) before being plugged into an app or device on a grander scale. It made me think of teams working on a super car, fine tuning individual mechanical parts by hand that typically in regular cars wouldn’t get the attention (or even be included), and then carefully bolting them together. As Vilkamo explains…

“Take Communication Center for example. This graduated from Beta Labs and is now fully integrated as part of Nokia PC Suite. And Location Tagging, this was a small application released as a standalone on Beta Labs, which was improved and then later integrated into the N78”

By launching an app on Beta Labs, regardless of how obvious or obscure it may be at first glance, it gains the attention of millions of people and enables the teams to focus in on the fine detail by collaborating with the ever-growing community of people willing to feedback and help the process – Nokia Maps was downloaded over 200,000 via Beta Labs alone. It’s a place that enables experimentation with new features, elements that might be unfamiliar to users, but essentially cultivates an environment where breaking new ground is becoming second nature. Plus, this scenario is helped by the fact that Beta Labs now has a closer relationship with Alpha Labs (Nokia’s internal version of Beta Labs).

“Beta Labs and Alpha Labs used to be in different divisions, the link wasn’t strong. But now we’re sitting in the same room as the head of Alpha Labs, so we’re definitely strengthening the linkage”, says Vilkamo.

What do you think to this set-up for creating and developing new applications – will we get better software at the end of it? Post your thoughts below.

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Photo from kevinzim