Nokia X phones: Not long for this world

Nokia X phones: Not long for this world

Summary: Nokia shook up the technorati with the launch of a line of smartphones running a forked version of Android. With the Microsoft acquisition of Nokia looming, it's not likely these phones will be around long.

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Nokia, a dedicated partner of Microsoft for a while, and soon to sell its handset division to them, has unveiled at the Mobile World Congress a line of smartphones running Android. The Nokia X phones will become part of Microsoft when the acquisition is consummated, and that likely means these new phones aren't long for this world.

Nokia X
(Image: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The low-end phones seem to be aimed at emerging markets. The hardware is typical Nokia and solidly built for the low price that the handsets will fetch. Nokia has a good track record in such markets and these phones make sense to expand it.

These phones will not run the typical Android besotted with Google's services. Nokia is cleverly going with the Google-less open source version of Android, and integrating Microsoft services. That's a smart approach for Nokia to take to enter the Android market.

Microsoft selling Android phones would be like selling a Surface model with Linux instead of Windows 8.

Where things get dicey is where Microsoft is concerned. It's important to acknowledge that Microsoft's purchase of Nokia's handset business has not happened yet, and won't for a while. That means the two companies are completely separate, and that Nokia is free to go about its Android business as it sees fit.

The problem sets in after that purchase is finalized. Microsoft will then own a line, albeit a small one, of smartphones that do not run its Windows Phone OS. That's kind of a sticky situation for the folks in Redmond. It's what it would be like if Microsoft sold a Surface model that ran Linux instead of Windows 8.

Then there's the problem of the product naming by Nokia. Surely Microsoft won't want to be selling a 'Nokia X' anything after it absorbs the Finnish products. 'Microsoft X' phones doesn't sound right, especially since they have nothing to do with the Xbox line.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley makes a reasonable case for her speculation that Microsoft might keep the Nokia Android phone line. She sees this as an opportunity for Microsoft to attract developers who want to produce Android apps for emerging markets. That sounds plausible, except this forked version of Android that Nokia is using is not quite the potentially lucrative app market where conventional Android apps are sold.

Nokia stated it finds apps to either run as is on its version of Android or that they can be easily ported to it. That's a positive thing, but the time to port is probably not the main concern developers might have. A forked version of Android means converted apps, and that means more effort to support them long term. Developers I've spoken to in the past find different versions of Android mean lots of additional effort (and costs) to support each one.

These apps will be sold in the Nokia Store given the lack of Google Play support. I've been told that store will be integrated into Microsoft as part of the acquisition, which will create logistical problems for the folks in Redmond. It doesn't make sense to have Android apps in the Microsoft Store where Windows and Windows Phone apps are sold. That would confuse Microsoft's customers. I can't see Microsoft having an Android store of any kind.

Ed Bott also thinks Microsoft will keep the Nokia X phones around and makes a solid case for it. His take that Microsoft is now a devices and services company, and not an OS company, supports having the Nokia Android effort around.

I can't argue against Mary Jo and Ed, but I just can't see Microsoft having Android products under its roof. Having to support another platform in addition to its own is going to be a tremendous effort, and while Microsoft has the resources to do it I can't see it. It just doesn't feel right to me and I think there are quite a few Microsofties who will feel the same.

It's not clear what Microsoft might do with these Android phones from Nokia, but the more I think about it the less likely I think it is the company will keep them around very long. The negatives outweigh the positives any way I look at it. I fully expect the Nokia X line to be 'kinned' shortly after Microsoft owns them.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Apps, Microsoft, MWC, Nokia

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47 comments
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  • Makes more sense to use Windows Phone instead...

    Maybe I'm wrong, but it just makes more sense to lure budget-minded consumers into the Windows Phone ecosystem... with Windows Phone running on low-spec hardware... than it does with Android. I understand the logic they're using... I just don't think it will work.
    cybersaurusrex
    • too expensive, and still too bloated.

      If it would run in 128MB it might have a chance of running.
      jessepollard
      • Please inform us which modern mobile OS

        runs and performs well in 128MB? Bear in mind I don't have any smartphone per se, just an old PDA, but it still does what I need to do. I can't recall any modern smartphone OS being announced that will give satisfactory user experience with only 128MB.
        wizard57m-cnet
        • The kernel runs just fine.

          It should RUN in 128MB - though you will want more to run additional applications, or to make them run faster.

          It would leave 128MB or more available for applications.

          I do have two Android devices that only have 256MB.

          They run fine.

          Look at the Raspberry PI. The entire system will run with 256MB - and that is a full GNU/Linux system.

          Runs slow due to the low memory. The 512MB is much better. But the system is the same.

          Is 128MB the minimum for a system? no. The base kernel shouldn't need more than 1MB. Without graphics, you can run many GNU/Linux systems in 64MB. Add graphics for about 32MB. Now it depends on what environment you add.... The Android runtime isn't all that large - but adding lots of applications does take memory.

          But running Windows in 256MB? not a chance.
          jessepollard
          • Linux kernel runs fine, not the Windows kernel...

            The article mentions Microsoft selling a Surface model that ran Linux instead of Windows 8. Whoa. Sounds like a GREAT idea. It would ease compatibility problems for everyone, it would eliminate the need for Microsoft to spend time on kernel development, it would get the OS down to a more manageable size, it'd be faster, less prone to viruses, and stable too. Of course, Microsoft would have to for go all the advantages of Windows, like it's ability to run legacy applications and the legions of engineers with legacy skills that are keeping them afloat at the present time. It is inevitable that Microsoft will eventually commit to Open Source, it's just a matter of how fast they will proceed.
            StevenAbaby
        • None

          Nokia X is based on Jelly Bean 4.1 I believe.
          Getting this to run on less than 1GB might not lead to the best experience in the world, I'd guess 512mg would be the minimum.
          If Windows Phone runs on that, I just can't see the logic of not using it.
          I'm guessing it'll be pretty cheap for Nokia to use that ;)
          Boothy_p
        • None

          Even the most spare of QNX deployments requires 500MB.
          Mac_PC_FenceSitter
      • That is rubbish!

        I'm sorry, but it is a fact that Windows Phone runs better on lower end hardware than Android. Just compare the Lumia 520 / 521 to comparable Android handsets. Also, the screen resolution specs for WP is being lowered from 480x800 to 360x640 on WP 8.1, which shows that MS has every intention of supporting lower end hardware with WP. So then, why should MS endure the expense, complication, and embarrassment of supporting Android on handsets WP will also be able to support? MS is in the process of streamlining Windows across various form factors, and simplifying app development on Windows; now MS must reverse course and support Android (along with Android developers) on 3 devices, from a range a many devices? This makes no economic or strategic sense.
        P. Douglas
        • It does not run "better"

          Better, in this case, is having all the key apps and services someone wants, not just smooth animations on the lowest supported hardware. As windows phone has had to add capabilties to bring it up to what android has, user performance has decreased. Their first priority was getting a superficial glitzy UI going at the expense of real capabilities. That's why the entire kernel had to be replaced for WP8 and why they are struggling to match the competition in capabilities. At some point, windows phone goes from 'running consistently" to 'not running at all'.
          I have used a lumia windows phone and what I saw there was long load time for applications and switching between them. I do not understand why people think it runs "better".
          drwong
          • Ha. i beg to differ. incredibly so.

            I own a Samsung ATIV WP8. It runs like a well oiled machine with apps opening and closing in an instant.

            I'm sick to death of fantasy stories about some weird lack of performance in WP8. It runs as slick as could be. Its fantastic. I sure wouldn't trade it for any other unit I have seen, and I've seen quite a variety to say the least.
            Cayble
    • LONG TERM

      Long term my friends. THERE is msopen tech, windows azure is fully open source (you can go built your own azure servers right now) it uses linux, java, php etc; fully open source. this is apart of long term play. this is not the ninities anymore, this is fast changing and dynamic world. So MSFT is enuring that it has a foot in all areas as we do not know what is the next iphone.
      As we can see by MSFT at MWC, they are fully focused on WP, I can go make a few hundreds WP phones right now if I so choose. There is WP8.1 that makes WP on par will iOS and android. Plus universal apps, so developers will be targeting the about 3000 millions windows devices that IDC say will be shipped next year (not counting windows 7 devices). MSFT has cut the windows liscense for sub-250 machines and lower the minum requirment to 1gb ram/16gb and 512mb/4gb for WP. Windows is MSFTmain foucs, one windows.
      However, times are changing , windows do not run the world, but windowss makes alot of money and it is used by a billion people, you cannot make any change as you feel with it as seen with Win8/8x. So with the NOKIA X OS, MSFT can afford to experiemnt and whatever else they desire. It call hedging your bet.
      revben
    • i disagree

      No. Keep producing mid to high end. When did apple put out a cheap version? They didn't, and anyone who buys apple knows they will get a snappy device. Keep wp the same, snappy and stable, it will be now slowly but users knowing itwon't crap out and slow to a crawl like my Android sometimes does will win the day
      dosmastr@...
  • I disagree

    MS needs to be a relevant player in mobile and has spent several years and billions of dollars in pursuit of that goal. It's best efforts have fallen far short of its goals. It holds a distant third place in phones and tablets and might not even have that if BlackBerry hadn't crashed and burned. With Tizen looming, MS is looking at another competitor with the cash and the hardware to become a seriously player in a short time. MS cannot afford to have Nokia be a charity case. It needs to sell phones and Win phone just isn't enough. An Android powered Nokia that is part of the MS ecosystem is better than losing out on those sales completely.
    krossbow
    • There is also the Chinese companies

      which are selling better in China than Samsung.
      jessepollard
    • Why use Android when there is no money to be made there?

      And who that is using Android (besides Samsung) is making money by using Android? We know the regulars like HTC, LG, etc. aren't making money. Amazon isn't making money, as that company never makes money. Barnes and Noble isn't making money from forked Android either. So I do not see the economic reasoning in using Android.
      P. Douglas
      • Plenty of money to be made

        And who is using Android?

        Amazon, Barnes and Noble. LG, Lenovo, Dell, And several Chinese phone companies...

        The money is made by not having to pay for licenses...
        jessepollard
    • I disagree

      Lets be absolutely clear: Apple NEEDS to sell phones or else financial disaster. MS does NOT NEED to sell phones.
      Sean Foley
      • Ummm...

        Apple makes more money selling phones alone than Microsoft makes as a whole. Microsoft NEEDS to sell phones!
        pairof9s
        • Sure but they are very different companies

          94% of Apple's profit comes from selling the Iphone. None of Microsofts comes from Windows Phone. For the record Apple net income in 2013 was $37B and Microsoft was $22B (of which none was from selling phones). The point stands that Apple must sell phones whereas Microsoft does not need to. Per dollar of gross revenue Microsoft is actually a more profitable company. Should the Iphone fall out of favor (shock horror, im sure motorolla never thought that would happen to the beloved startac or razr or RIMM to the blackberry and so on) Apple would be finished. The history of the tech industry is littered with the carcasses of companies just like Apple.
          ballyorney
      • MS is profitable

        But it hasn't invested billions in mobile to be sidelined. MS is fully committed to succeeding in mobile. If sleeping with the enemy offers them a way to it, I think they will take it. The current strategy is not working. It is time to find a fallback position and regroup.
        krossbow