Nokia's Android Lumia experiment: A great idea, but only if you've got a time machine

Nokia's Android Lumia experiment: A great idea, but only if you've got a time machine

Summary: Nokia reportedly built a working Android-powered Lumia, but there was no way to turn that supertanker around again.

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The revelation that Nokia tested out an Android-powered Lumia well before it negotiated the sale of its devices business to Microsoft must have come as a surprise to precisely no one, least of all Microsoft.

Nokia announced in 2011 that it was dumping Symbian as its primary smartphone OS and moving to Windows Phone.  And ever since the standard refrain when discussing Nokia has been 'it should have gone Android'.

It's an understandable position to take — Android is the biggest smartphone OS in town, accounting for well over three-quarters of all smartphones sold, and has been nibbling away at Nokia's declining-but-still-huge non-smartphone business in emerging markets.

The theory goes that as Nokia couldn't beat Android, it should join them. It's an appealing suggestion: the all-conquering Android ecosystem paired with the design might, brand recognition and supply chain relationships of Nokia would seem a great match.

Take Nokia's app problem, for example: opening up the Windows Phone store on a Nokia handset is a dispiriting experience, a ghost town compared to Google's Play. Nokia and Microsoft will tell you the number of apps is not the important thing, it's making sure you have good-quality apps. Alas, it's not succeeded in having either — something which going Android would have fixed up a treat.

Such a move could even have helped Nokia's bottom line: Google gives away Android for free while, even with the $250m per quarter Microsoft gives Nokia to use Windows Phone, Nokia still expects to pay Microsoft licensing fees this year.

Then there's the devices themselves: imagine Nokia's desirable design wrapped lovingly around the Android OS — who wouldn't want that? After all, Nokia managed to shift millions of handsets running Windows Phone, which must be in no large part down to the hardware — imagine what it could have done with a more familiar OS and that self-same engineering.

And instead of focusing its mobile app making efforts on Windows Phone, with its rather limited audience, Nokia could have turned out its apps — maps, imaging and the like — onto the biggest app market in the world.

It's a somewhat simplistic picture, of course: apart from Samsung, pretty much none of the other hanset makers have any real share of Android hardware sales to speak of. Just going Android is not a panacea to a smartphone maker's troubles, particularly now, when Samsung has grown to dominate the market to such an extent.

It's similar picture for the Windows Phone market too — apart from Nokia, no one else is shifting much in the way of Windows Phone devices — but even the Android also-rans like LG, Lenovo or ZTE are still outselling Nokia's Windows Phones by a significant margin.

Maybe in 2011, Nokia should have gone Android. Who knows — it's impossible to predict how the last two and a half years would have played out if it had. But in 2013 it's a different story. For better or worse Nokia, even before Microsoft made its bid, was as wedded to Windows Phone as Microsoft.

Sure, without Nokia, Microsoft would have had to go back to square one with its mobile ambitions, without a significant partner to make devices bearing its OS. But, as the Nokia acquisition, it didn't really want a partner, it wanted a manufacturing arm, so perhaps BlackBerry would have done nicely.

In short, Microsoft had other alternatives. But how likely was it, really, that Nokia would have dumped Windows Phone and gone Android next year? Not at all.

All of Nokia's smartphone app making focus, its developer outreach, its integration work, its partnership efforts were tied to Microsoft. Even its hardware was yolked to Windows Phone — remember, Microsoft dictates what the front of any handset bearing its OS looks like. While getting Android to work on Lumia "was not a Herculean engineering effort" according to the New York Times, which broke the story, unpicking the Nokia-Microsoft partnership would have been. One device running an OS is an easy job; a whole company tooling up to do the same is not.

'Android before Android': The long, strange history of Symbian and why it matters for Nokia's future

'Android before Android': The long, strange history of Symbian and why it matters for Nokia's future

'Android before Android': The long, strange history of Symbian and why it matters for Nokia's future

You could argue that Nokia could have gone for a dual-OS strategy, as all other Windows Phone manufacturers have, and produced Android handsets alongside Microsoft-powered ones.

Not a bad idea, though the idea of Microsoft supporting and cooperating with Nokia to the same degree once it changed tack seems improbable in the extreme.

Nokia turned the supertanker around once in 2011 when it moved from Symbian to Windows Phone, it's highly improbable shareholders would have stood for a repeat move in 2014. They've experienced one OS regime change as a very bumpy ride, they won't put up with another.

At least in 2011, Symbian sales were sizeable enough to keep Nokia afloat while it ramped up Windows Phone shipments. Trying to use Windows Phone to keep it afloat while it moved to Android would be rather like using a lead weight as a life jacket.

There was a time when Nokia could have gone Android, and maybe even done well from it. That time however is well and truly past — and the curiosity of a Android-powered Lumia that Nokia serves to remind us of that fact.

Further reading

Topics: Mobility, Android, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Nokia, Smartphones, Windows Phone

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89 comments
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  • Did Mr Flop fib?

    I seem to remember that Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop, declared that Nokia had "no plan B". It was Windows Phone or nothing.

    Now we hear that Nokia really did have an Android handset up its sleeve. This is an admission that Nokia's Windows Phone gamble failed. He backed the wrong horse.
    Vbitrate
    • As Jo said in the article above:

      There is a world of difference between getting Android running on a Lumina and re-tooling the company around a new platform.

      In all reality, Android is a race to the bottom. It's user experience is pretty crappy and very inconsistent across vendors. Most tellingly, nobody other than Samsung is making money off Android. Heck, even Microsoft makes more money from Android than Google does.
      bitcrazed
      • tired arguments

        I guess by your measure, Microsoft Windows is a failure too.
        larry9
      • Ahhh

        "There is a world of difference between getting Android running on a Lumina and re-tooling the company around a new platform."

        So what you are saying is that Nokia had ZERO re-tooling to get WP running on a Lumia ??

        Considering the vast Linux experience they had, I would have thought it easier to move to Android than WP..................

        "In all reality, Android is a race to the bottom."....A bit like PC OEM's running Windows ?
        DejaVu2
        • hmm

          "....A bit like PC OEM's running Windows ?" no, you're thinking of PC OEM's running chrome for their bottomfeeding chromebooks
          chidoro43
      • Spreading MS FUD

        "It's user experience is pretty crappy" Are we witnessing a new "get the facts +droidrage" odyssey ? So, you must be taking any job MS offers you? Making you more of a dollar-crazed rather than a bit-crazed.
        eulampius
      • You might want

        to get a version of Android that was released in the last oh 2 years or so. We are not all using Froyo any more.
        marque2
      • Where do you get your material?

        Android is a race to the bottom? So Windows Phone is what? A race to the top? Really?

        Nobody makes money off of Android besides Samsung? So everybody makes money off of Windows Phone including Nokia?

        What is your point that you are trying to prove? You seem to know your bash points on Android pretty well but you don't seem to know the realities of using the Android OS vs Windows Phone.
        AndroidAdvocate
    • Without Microsoft they'd be history.

      The problem was lack of revenue and profit. They went with Windows because Microsoft gave them $250 million in badly needed cash to do it. Going with Android would not have generated immediate cash to keep them afloat until the phones were developed. That's why there was no "Plan B." Any "plan B" would have probably ended in bankruptcy before they even got a phone on the shelves. I'm certain there was an understanding that if they went with Windows, not only would they be supported financially during development, but if the products failed to sell enough, they would be saved from oblivion by an outright purchase. Plan A was the only feasible option for the cash-poor company. It's not that Elop didn't even try to make a plan B. It's that there literally was no viable plan B and he knew it.
      BillDem
      • Almost right ....

        Going Android - Plan B - just might have succeeded; but Microsoft was less of a gamble.

        Once Elop was in post, Plan B was dropped quicker than Symbian, because Plan A was always going to be Microsoft's Bitch - though I'm guessing the board didn't realise that was the ONLY option when they cut the deal.
        Heenan73
      • Without MS, they likely would have MADE history, and in a good way

        You have very clear thoughts, clearly expressed, BillDem - but there are a series of facts you're not considering. Google was negotiating with Nokia at the same time as MS, and there was plenty of edge-info that indicated they were going to front Nokia almost as much cash as MS - which, when you factor in the MS licensing fees, would have plussed that issue in Android's favor. And the simple fact that they had vast amounts of Linux-oriented OS experience would have made it quicker for them to come to market with an Android handset than eventually happened with the Lumias (heck, they got a MeeGo device out before the Lumias, even though rumors are it had to fight internal hurdles every step of the way [and was summarily cancelled, after winning design awards and selling out its first run]; and from a resource perspective, there would have been plenty of bonusing off of the MeeGo efforts, quite possibly permitting both to press forward).

        And remember too that at that point, Nokia sold many more handsets than Samsung - the had the opportunity to get in while the market was in much the same condition that eventually led to Samsung's dominance.

        Your contention that there was an agreement ahead of time for a bailout if WinPhones tanked is interesting. I have trouble believing that any above-board agreement would include such a promise, but maybe you're right.
        daboochmeister
        • Three problems with your arguments

          1) Android may be free, but every Android maker pays licening fees for patents Android infringes on. There is no Frand value for that either. It is highly unlikely that Android would have offset windows licensing fees if Nokia picked Google over Microsoft and could have ended up costing more per handset.

          2) Nokia competitors: Google already had it hands full supporting many competitors of Nokia with their android devices. Why would helping out a struggling company that needed financial support put Nokia on top of Googles developer resource list?

          3) Motorola. Google can't even make Android a success on the handset manufacturer they own and operate. Which they were in
          Emacho
          • Rebuttals

            1) Even if Nokia didn't fight MS on the patent thing, think about how many Nokia patents MS relies on for WP - HTC is said to be paying MS from $5 - $7/Android device because of cross-licensing, how can we think Nokia would pay more? Yet MS WP licenses are considerably more (aren't they said to be about $40, if you eliminate all blur from cross-licensing deals?)

            2) Google clearly didn't think this was a factor - they were negotiating hard to get Nokia on board. And remember Nokia had 40% of the smartphone market at that point - they dwarfed Samsung and Moto at that point. It would have been a near-instant win for Google (and probably would have torpedoed Google's purchase of Moto - though that's speculation on my part)

            3) Non sequitur. Moto didn't have anything like the featurephone, smartphone, and carrier-relations base that Nokia did at the time.

            MS has succeeded in generating deafening echoes in the internet chamber on this one - it takes a lot of focus on facts to locate all the presuppositions. Links like this help:

            http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/2013/09/the-do-it-yourself-elop-analysis.html

            Everywhere it says "first 6 months", that's Nokia's actual performance before the decision to abandon ship for MS-only. And:

            http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/2013/07/nokia-q2-analysis-this-is-textbook-comprehensively-failed-strategy-in-numbers.html

            Yes, you have to pull a little tinfoil out of his hair, as he's a bit conspiracy-theorist wrt/ Elop - but he DOES present a lot of facts that just don't fit into the internet-echo-chamber view of the MS-Nokia deal.
            daboochmeister
          • Disagree

            1) Considering the Lumia 521 sells for as little as $80, I think we can safely assume it is less than $40 per license.

            Likewise whatever patent Windows Phone may need from Nokia, they are already agreed upon. Nokia using Android has no predetermined agreement and there is no FRAND licensing fee for the patents Android violates.

            The point was again, that Android isn't free and most likely not a financial benefit for Nokia to use. Especially if they kicked MS to the curb. Fair or not, I could see it getting ugly.


            3) Not sure what your point is. Just that I don't think Google was going to rescue Nokia and sweetheart them with lavish resources. Case in point, Google is failing miserably with Motorola.

            If your point was tha elop was sent in to make this merger eventually happen, then yes I could see that as being possible. I have no doubt that Microsoft has long since planned to do their own hardware. Either to set standards or kill off the OEMs that are driving price/quality into the dirt.

            Again, I'm not saying any of that is fair or right, just what may be possible
            Emacho
          • online shopping

            nice achievement by Nokia.....
            http://shoplahorepk.blogspot.com
            Shop lahore
          • Three problems with your arguments

            1) Do you think Microsoft would have mixed it up with Nokia on patents ???? - Nokia could have went Android AS WELL, Microsoft were not in a position to say no.

            2) The snails pace at which WP is progressing clearly shows that Microsoft did not put Nokia on top of their developer resource list?, this fact has recently been lamented in Public by a Nokia executive. - Anyways Nokia I'm sure had more programming talent than any other phone manufacturer.....that is before they were all fired.

            3) Motorola still exists and still is making phones......Nokia is toast
            DejaVu2
          • What?

            1) My point was that Android is not free as people keep claiming it is. There are licensing fees to be paid. They just are not paid to Google.

            2) Yes or no, slow growing marketshare is still better than declining marketshare. I'm positive there are several big Android handset makers that would kill to replace their decline with growth. No matter how small the growth is.

            3) What is your point. That Google didn't change Motorolas name? Even Google, who creates Android, can't compete against Samsung. Think about that.
            Emacho
          • Nokia

            didn't join the Android consortium until really late. So the OS was optimized to other player ideas and wants.
            marque2
      • OMG

        More history rewrites.....

        "The problem was lack of revenue and profit"

        Symbian sales and profits were INCREASING before the burning platform memo - Quarter 4 2010 Symbian based Nokia smarpthone sales: 28.3 M units and 4.4 B Euros revenues;

        The $250m they got from Microsoft, well those chickens have came home to roost, Nokia expects licencing fees to exceed payments by over $500m - ie net cash flow OUT

        Nokia had LOTS of Linux in-house expertise and would have been a small hop over to android, than the MASSIVE culture and skills change required to jump to Microsoft (as has been proven)

        Finally when you say cash poor company - They had $7Bn cash when Elop took over.....what is it now ?

        "It's not that Elop didn't even try to make a plan B. It's that there literally was no viable plan B and he knew it."

        Sadly Plan A was less viable than plan B...............

        And those my friends are the FACTS
        DejaVu2
        • Yes!

          You better preach!
          AndroidAdvocate