How Nokia Users Drive Innovation

Through online aps such as Sports Tracker and Nokia Beta Lab, the Finnish handset giant gathers customers' ideas from around the world—virtually free

Nokia researchers didn't quite know what to expect when, in March, 2007, they posted a mobile phone application called Sports Tracker on a company Web site that is open to the public. The program, still a work in progress, was designed to let runners and cyclists take advantage of the global positioning capability included in some Nokia models. Users can record workout data such as speed and distance, and can plot routes.

The response to Sports Tracker was overwhelming. Eventually more than 1 million people downloaded the program and used it for sports the developers never dreamed of, such as paragliding, hot-air ballooning, and motorcycle riding. More importantly, the users avidly provided criticism that Nokia (NOK) then used to make improvements. Based on reader feedback, for example, developers added the capability to create online groups where users can share favorite routes and even photos they took along the way. "People were misusing the application in creative ways," says Jussi Kaasinen, a member of the team at Nokia Research Center in Helsinki that developed Sports Tracker.

You've heard of user-generated content? Sports Tracker is an example of how Nokia has begun experimenting with user-generated innovation. That's the premise behind Nokia Beta Labs, a Web site where the Finnish handset maker lets users test the latest smartphone software. Instead of people recording silly Web cam videos for YouTube or inventing frivolous advocacy groups on Facebook, they can help make the mobile Internet more useful.

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