Nokia and Microsoft have announced that they will invest up to €18 million ($24 million) in a new mobile application development program over the next three years, a move aimed at raising developer interest in Microsoft's Windows Phone platform and Nokia devices. Dubbed AppCampus, the program will kick off in May 2012 at Aalto University in Finland, and will give "students and entrepreneurs from all over the world" the opportunity to get training in mobile technology, design and usability, as well as funding for their projects.

Participants will get financial backing without the need to give any equity interest to investors and also will receive coaching on technical issues and how to commercialize applications.

The focus is primarily on Windows Phone, but the program will also cover Nokia's other platforms, including the aging Symbian and Series 40. Also, applicants who have developed mobile applications based on AppCampus grants have to commit to exclusivity for six months before porting their creations to other platforms.

Currently, there are about 70,000 applications in Microsoft's Marketplace, up from an estimated 50,000 applications in December last year. Although it has already surpassed RIM's BlackBerry AppWorld, the number is still far short of around half a million apps available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Most popular apps such as Facebook and Twitter are available on Windows Phone, but makers of many niche apps have shied away. What's more, a report from development platform vendor Appcelerator and market research company IDC last Tuesday said that only 37% of developers are very interested in developing applications for Windows Phone, compared to 89% for iOS and 79% for Android.