By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated February 11, 2014.
Nokia is reportedly getting ready to release its first Android smartphone. The low-cost device is expected to be unveiled at the Mobile World Conference in two weeks.
There have been alleged screen shots of the device, nicknamed Normandy, circulating around the Web for several weeks. The Wall Street Journal, citing "people familiar with the matter," reported Monday that the device will be launched at the big mobile trade show in Barcelona.
Nokia's previous lineup of Symbian-based phones used to be popular in such developing markets as India, a country where Android is now the mobile platform for more than 90 percent of phones shipped.
The Low-End Problem
Three years ago, Nokia accepted an offer of hundreds of millions of dollars from Microsoft in marketing and development aid and adopted the Windows Phone platform for its devices. But Windows Phone is still struggling to get past single digits in global market share.
The platform does not run well on lower-end phones, which means that, without Android or Nokia's nascent Asha platform for low-end devices, the Finnish company has no real way of competing against inexpensive phones in what used to be its key countries.
But another way to look at a line of low-cost Nokia Android phones is that it solves Microsoft's problem of dealing with low-cost devices for third-world countries and potentially elsewhere -- even if it risks making a competing mobile platform stronger. Some Android phones are selling for under $50 in those countries.
Like Kindle Fire
If Nokia does release an Android phone, the expectation is that it will feature services from Nokia, and eventually from Microsoft once the merger is closed, but not from Google. This has led some Nokia-watchers to compare a Nokia Android-based phone to Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet, with both offering forked versions of the Android platform and non-Google services.
According to the Journal, Nokia's services on the Normandy phone will include its Here mapping service, Mix Radio and a Nokia app store with Nokia-appropriate Android apps. Similarly, Kindle offers many Android apps that have been customized a bit or not at all for the Kindle interface, and it is expected that a Nokia Android phone would be able to offer a similar roster of somewhat tweaked Android apps.
The Journal said the Normandy phone would not be able to access the Google Play app marketplace, and expectations are that Microsoft's Bing search engine and Outlook.com e-mail would serve for those functions -- either at launch or eventually.
There is also the possibility that, because the Android platform can be modified by the manufacturer, Nokia and Microsoft will find a way to integrate these low-end Android-with-non-Google-services phones with the Windows Phones lineup more directly than simply sharing some services, such as related interfaces or sales offers to trade in a low-end Nokia Android phone for a higher-end Windows Phone.