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Nokia eyes up innovators

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Nokia has released details of the 11 finalists in its "Calling All Innovators" competition, picked from almost 1000 entrants and apparently focusing on applications that improve the quality of life on earth.

There are those who believe the best way to improve quality of life would be to switch off the mobile, but unsurprisingly that's not how Nokia sees things. The finalists are split between the ecologically sound, the improving-the-third-world and the cool-technology, with an interesting application or two in every section.

Starting with the least interesting, the ECO-Challenge, there's a route planner than works out the most fuel-efficient route, a couple of guides to help with using public transport and something to switch off Bluetooth and the like when it's not being used.

Improving software for emerging markets includes remote controlling water pumps and online access to the Fair Trade and Certified Organic requirements, but most interesting is an application to identify genuiune medical supplies. The latter requires a unique authentication codes to be printed on each box, which can then be validated by text message for free. Counterfeit medicines are a huge problem in many countries, and this seems a reasonably cheap way of addressing the problem.

Technology Showcase pushes the capabilities of a mobile phone pretty hard: one application reads out books or documents that have been photographed, while another connects an N95 to a TV screen and enables light-pen-type functionality using the camera to detect contact - though we're not clear why that's a good thing. Equally pointless, but probably more fun, is an application that creates a dance routine from analysis of any MP3 file, then uses the motion-detectors of S60 v5 to see if the user is hip to the beat.

What's missing from these examples of mobile innovation is any way of making money, for anyone. Punters might pony up a few quid for MP3-based gaming, and governments might invest in something to stem the use of fake medicine, the rest look like interesting applications looking for a ton of VC money to spend.

The contest is about innovation, not profitability, so perhaps that's fair enough. Still, in these credit-crunchy times the mobile industry needs more than impressive demonstrations, and it seems hardly likely that many of these apps will be remembered once the winner is announced in Barcelona next month. ®

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