Why Microsoft may keep, not kill, Nokia's new Android phones

Why Microsoft may keep, not kill, Nokia's new Android phones

Summary: Once Microsoft officially owns Nokia's phone business, the Redmond company just might find more reasons to keep than 'Kin' Nokia's new line of Android phones.


On February 24, Nokia did what many company watchers and developers thought it never would or could do: Introduce an Android-based phone family. Many of these same folks are now predicting that as soon as Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia officially closes, Microsoft will kill these devices faster than anyone can say "Kin."


I think Microsoft will do nothing of the sort, as I've predicted before.

While many Windows Phone developers were justifiably worried about the muddling of messages that would be created by Microsoft/Nokia supporting the arch enemy of the Windows Phone OS, Android, there are a couple reasons Microsoft may decide to keep the X family alive.

The first reason is somewhat counterintuitive. It's about developers, developers, developers. But in this case I don't mean Windows Phone developers.

With the X, Nokia is clearly wooing Android developers who want to build apps for users in developing markets. The Nokia X platform includes the Linux kernel, the open source pieces of Android (Dalvik, general open-source Android libraries and the application framework), extensions that Nokia has made to that framework, and Nokia application programming interfaces (APIs) that Nokia built to replace Google Play store APIs. Nokia already has built APIs for maps, push notifications and in-app billing that replace Google's comparable APIs.

According to Nokia officials, Nokia has tested more than 100,000 Android apps on the X, and "75 percent are directly compatible and ready to be published to Nokia Store." Nokia officials are on the record saying it will take Android developers usually less than eight hours to replace Google's services with Nokia's corresponding services. Developers will be able to develop and distribute their apps in a single APK file format targeting multiple stores, Nokia officials are guaranteeing.

Nokia is making available to Android developers an Android Developer Tools (ADT) plug-in for Eclipse/Android SDK, as well as a new Android development based on IntelliJIDEA, JetBrains' Java intelligent development environment, called Android Studio. (Android Studio requires the latest version of Java Development Kit.)

Nokia X users will be able to download Android apps from the Nokia Store, as well as unnamed third-party app stores. Users will be able to sideload Android apps, as well, according to Nokia. I haven't seen any particulars on whether and how Nokia will sandbox and/or separate these Android apps from the non-Android  ones.

If you're Microsoft -- which still does not yet officially "own" the Nokia handset business -- the Nokia X makes life tricky for you from a positioning standpoint. Microsoft's head of Corporate Communications Frank Shaw described the Nokia X as phones "which will compete with Android devices in the affordable smartphone category and introduce the Microsoft cloud to a new set of customers in growth markets."

But if you're Microsoft -- and your execs are mulling how and if they can get Android apps to run on Windows and Windows Phone (which I've heard they are) -- the Nokia X also has to be quite interesting to you. Microsoft's unified operating system team would love a way to get more apps on Windows in a way that doesn't alienate its own developer base. I'm sure these folks are keeping close tabs on Nokia's developer messaging, tools and Store policies and procedures to see if there's anything worth emulating/borrowing. 

Nokia officials are positioning the Nokia X family as the gateway to Nokia and Microsoft services, as well as Lumia smartphones. None of these X phones will be sold in the U.S., according to Nokia's press materials, but they will be sold in all other geographies. Nokia built a user interface for these phones called FastLane that provides access to recently used apps and services. The X family feature Skype, OneDrive, HERE maps and Nokia Radio.


Where will Microsoft likely make the most money in the future with its phone line? In apps and services -- and some day maybe in hardware to some extent -- not in licensing the OS. That's why the "new" Microsoft may be more OS agnostic than the old Microsoft. Microsoft's goal is to try to find a way to make Windows/Windows Phone the one platform that customers will use, no matter what kinds of apps they want to run.

To me, the murky messaging isn't so much around whether Nokia's new Android devices compete with Windows Phone, but more whether they compete with Nokia's Asha feature phone line. I'd think the X family is meant to be the ultimate replacement for the Asha family -- which Nokia looks to be deemphasizing from a developer standpoint. But no one at Nokia has said officially this is the gameplan.

Nokia X: Will Microsoft deep-six it or keep it? Right now, I'm thinking "keep." You?

Topics: Android, Microsoft, MWC, Software Development, Windows Phone


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Some issue

    To me there are a few issues here:
    1. Focus. Once Nokia's devices business is absorbed by MS they will own one more platform to maintain, nurture and develop. In a time when WP has some momentum it should be doubling down on it instead of adding a new platform.
    2. WP and W9. Soon WP app model and will unify with W9. So MS needs to get as many developers to adopt Windows development as possible because other wise it will kill Windows too.

    Now if they do enable Android apps on Windows then they might solve the issue of apps but then Windows development is pretty much dead on both phone and Windows.
    • how does this change the developer dynamic

      For Microsoft. Appears to me that what this really means is that Google mow has to compete with a platform that doesn't rely on GMS certification or Google's services, runs most of the same apps and from a variety of app stores besides Google's own, and has better hardware and a more consistent UX on low end hardware. All at a time when they are attempting to put the screws to everybody to regain control of their ecosystem. MS developers are in the same place they were yesterday, build for Windows or don't. It's android developers that now have additional options.
      widow maker
      • Compete? Really?

        I don't think it means Google has to compete at all. They so completely dominate the landscape that it's not JUST Android that their supporters are married to, it is ABSOLUTELY the Google ecosystem. It sickens me how often I hear people talking about Gmail, etc., and how, even on iOS and Windows Phone, they insist on having full support of Google's ecosystem. So, I don't believe Google has a thing to worry about. It's Microsoft that has to worry. I totally agree that as soon as Android apps are running on WP, that's IT for WP app development. There is absolutely no incentive.
        • Unless of course the WP apps are superior

          then it becomes something of a preference for the developers.
          • I think you are confused...

            If the WP development is superior then it becomes a preference for the developers.

            So far, both the apps and the development are behind.
          • Superior?

            I remember the beta / VHS argument. Beta was technically superior. You remember who won. As an OS, OS/2 was technically superior to Windows 95. You remember who won. As a workstation for manipulating graphics, the Atari ST was superior to Macintosh. You remember who won. Being technically superior doesn't mean you will win in the marketplace.
          • Cost savings drives the marketplace

            If a superior OS saves money then it will drive the market.
            Tim Jordan
        • why ru sickened?

          Change or die ScubaDog. The masses are fleeing Wintel. It's all part of the natural winds of change:

          mainframe - mini - micro - mobile

          With each generation it was a whole different set of silicon and OS's. Or are you telling me that gmail sickens u cuz u wish we still used VAX? In which case, I have no argument here.
  • Get rid of it

    Why would MS not use the same hardware design and add WP8.1 into it? The only reason I see MS keeps this so that they can use the Nokia name OR because this is a SmartPhone, will they be able to sue the Nokia branding ?
    • MS can't sue itself.

      No, MS can't sue itself as Nokia is now part of MS.
      • Microsoft does not own Nokia or will it ever...

        Microsoft and Nokia are separate companies. When Microsoft buy's Nokia's handset division, the Nokia name will be dropped from Lumias, but kept on Asha brand. However, Nokia the company will still be around but as a separate entity doing the here maps, etc.
      • Mis-typed

        Meaned use Not "sue". Sue would not make sense.
  • interesting...

    That everyone is focused on what this means to MS instead of what it means to Google and Samsung. Seems the potential for disruption is far greater for those two firms than it is for MS.
    widow maker
    • No disruption at all.

      Why would you even think that this little tiny blip coming from a division of Nokia that will, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist in a few weeks? Even if Microsoft allows the line to continue, there is almost no incentive for people to buy a Nokia Android device over a mainstream, fully Google-supported Android device , other than price. And, as a result, there will be ZERO incentive to buy a Windows Phone. Google isn't worried about this piece of flotsam at all.
      • I could see those

        That don't want to be tied into Google services liking this option. If it takes off there's no reason they couldn't give you the choice of this or windows phone on Lumia like hardware.
        Sam Wagner
      • Missed Point

        Nokia is developing a model that lets Android apps run on many versions of Android and is not tied to Google directly. That model is very, very attractive to developers. Developers that do not care about WP. They just want to work on more versions of Android and not just Nokia. In one easy step they could also be made to run on Window Phone.
        • Why dismiss the possibility?

          There are a dozen or so smartphones running the open source non-ggle apped in China and the various Amazon Kindles have a nice market with the same setup. I just would not be so dismissive of a phone such as this not getting decent marketshare world wide and if MicroSoft can get its Bing services and such to function as the app services so much the better.
  • Microsoft makes money on every Android phone sold, right?

    I thought Microsoft made money on every Android phone that is sold. Perhaps it is a pittance...?
  • Why Microsoft may keep, not kill, Nokia's new Android phones

    but nothing to convince me to care...
  • Significance: Zero

    A hacked up Android might play in the 3rd world market it appears to be aiming for. They're used to being tossed from pillar to post by phone vendors anyway.

    Everyone else will be wise to it, have more usable options, and just avoid it. The only impact will probably be more damage to the reputation of both Nokia and Microsoft, already rapidly falling stars.

    If Microsoft keeps it, more likely they'll use it as something to point at and say "see, Android sucks" while the wind blows that right back in their face.

    LOB and 3rd party developers have left the building. Windows in all its incarnations has become a closed ecosystem.