Nokia phones expected in 2016: Android or something else?

After selling its smartphone business to Microsoft, Nokia is planning a return to the market. Google's Android software makes the most sense for the new phones.

Nokia is planning a return to the smartphone market in 2016, after it sold off its handset business to Microsoft in 2013, sources tell Re/code. The timing is right: Based on the Microsoft deal, Nokia can't sell phones with the Nokia brand until next year.

What platform might new Nokia phones run? Unless Nokia has a surprise trick up its sleeve, I'd expect the company to become Google's newest best friend with the handsets using Android software, even if the European Commission isn't a fan of Android right now.

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I suggested back in 2010 that Nokia dump MeeGo -- the company's then-expected successor to Symbian -- and use Android before Google's platform really took off. Obviously, the company went in another direction and as of now, it has no smartphone business.

There's actually some recent precedent for Nokia to choose Android this time around, however. It already has done so for tablets. Or rather, for a tablet.

Last year, Nokia announced the N1 tablet for the China market: An iPad mini clone with USB Type C connector and Google's Android 5.0 Lollipop software. Nokia also included some value-add software of its own including Z Launcher, which can get you in the app of your choice in about a second, the company says. Z Launcher is freely available for you to download and install on your own Android device, although it's only officially supported by Nokia on the Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3, S4 and S5 handsets.

Nokia also tried its hand with Android handsets -- the Nokia X and X2 -- but after Microsoft finally bought Nokia's handset business, the company shut down those efforts.

At this stage of the smartphone game, it makes little sense for Nokia to choose an alternative platform for new phones, however: Successful handsets have broad app and service ecosystems, which take time to build. Samsung is trying to do just that with Tizen and finding limited, at best, success.

Instead, Nokia will likely use Google Android as a base platform and try to add innovative software such as Z Launcher to stand out from the crowd. In some sense, that's exactly what Motorola's strategy has been: Use the stock version of Android that Google uses with its Nexus devices and provide useful software on top of that. It seems to working out well for Motorola -- the company shipped 10 million handsets in the final quarter of 2014 -- so perhaps Nokia will duplicate some of that success next year.