Is Microsoft about to bring Office and XBox to Nokia's Asha phones?

Apparently Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is considering it, according to one Nokia exec.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Nokia's sort-of 'smartphone' range Asha could be something more than just a gateway into Windows Phone under Microsoft, according to one Nokia exec.

Under the massive deal announced on Tuesday, Microsoft will acquire Nokia's devices and services unit including both the Asha and Lumia brands. While Microsoft figures out how to integrate Nokia into its own business, it will retain Nokia's brand name under licence to sell both Asha devices and other feature phones.

Executives from the two companies said the Nokia-branded phones will serve as an on-ramp to Microsoft's bigger goal of moving feature phone owners across to its Windows Phone smartphones.

But Microsoft is not just going to inherit Asha and do nothing with it. According to Nokia’s head of marketing Tuula Rytilä, Microsoft will likely make Asha a "better offer". How?

Microsoft CEO "Steve Ballmer has already stated that some Microsoft services that have previously been restricted to higher-end smartphones may come to Asha. They are looking into things like SkyDrive, Office and Xbox," Rytilä wrote on Nokia's Conversations blog on Wednesday.

Microsoft preloads Lumia Windows Phone devices with Office Mobile, and this June rolled out Office Mobile for the iPhone, tied to Office 365, followed by a July release for Android.

Meanwhile, the Asha, which Nokia bills as a 'smartphone' and predicted could reach 100 million people within the next few years, has yet to get Office. However, there has been a tentative to make the device more enterprise friendly, including the addition of Exchange support. Asked whether Ashas will get more business features, Niko Mykkänen, Nokia's global head of B2B sales, told ZDNet recently: "What is business-specific, besides email, contact, calendar, PDF reader? Is it Lync and these kind of things? Time will tell."

While Asha appeared to be growing in popularity last year, in recent months it has struggled to keep pace with entry-level Androids. Perhaps the arrival Office on Asha could slow its demise — or at least allow Microsoft to gain a few new Office users in developing markets before it winds down the range entirely?

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