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Nokia, whose mobile business will soon be owned by Microsoft, will reportedly unveil its first Android phone in a couple of weeks.
The result could be an Android fork that uses Microsoft and Nokia services instead of Google’s.
On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the device, code named Normandy, will be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress, which opens February 24, 2014, in Barcelona. The publication quoted “people familiar with the matter.” Screenshots of the rumored low-cost device, targeted at high-growth emerging markets, have been floating around since December.
An Android phone had been in the works at Nokia before Microsoft made its winning offer for buy the Finnish company’s mobile business. Nokia had taken the Microsoft platform plunge three years ago, when it decided to adopt Microsoft Windows Phone for its phones.
Ross Rubin, Principal Analyst for industry researcher Reticle Research, pointed out to VentureBeat that Nokia’s approach might be similar to the Kindle model. The Amazon tablet runs on an Android platform that has a different ecosystem of apps and services than other Android smartphones and tablets, which feature Google’s own software.
He noted,”[Kindle can] run many Android applications, with some ‘Kindle-edition’ customization.” The key bet that Micrsoft and Nokia are making, Rubin said, “is their non-Google services would be compelling enough to woo consumers from other platforms,” including the Android platform with Google services. The Journal said those non-Google services will include Nokia’s Here maps, Mix Radio, and a Nokia app store featuring Android apps. Since the merger has not yet closed, it’s not clear at the moment what, if any, Microsoft services would be offered.
Al Hilwa, Program Director for Application Development at research firm IDC, told us that a combined platform of Android OS and Microsoft services “would be a groundbreaking move for Microsoft.” After all, he noted, “Microsoft runs a lot of Linux and other application platforms in its cloud services, and it may come to the point where it runs other platforms on its devices.”
On the other hand, this strategy would also mean that the Microsoft-owned Nokia is competing against Microsoft Windows Phone platform, which is being used on Nokia’s popular Lumia line but doesn’t work on lower-end phones.
Rubin points out that this is actually a “sandwich” strategy on Nokia’s part, with the top services and the bottom hardware from Nokia/Microsoft, and the middle platform layer being Android.
After all, no one is buying the platform; they’re buying the apps, the services, and the physical hardware.