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Microsoft will kill Nokia X, because it is a waste of time

Gordon Kelly by

Nokia Android

OPINION Today at MWC 2014 Nokia unveiled the industry’s worst kept secret: it is making a range of Android smartphones that includes the Nokia X and the 5-inch Nokia XL. As the first Android handsets made by Nokia they hold a notable distinction, but they are likely to be remembered for something far more ignominious: the first project Microsoft cancels.

On the surface Nokia is trying to put on a brave face. As we expected its marketing points to emerging markets, app support and the X’s role as "an on-ramp to Lumia and Microsoft services", but the level of unease between Nokia and Microsoft about it makes us cringe.

For example, nowhere in Nokia’s press release is Android mentioned by name. It is the aforementioned "on-ramp", is "inspired by our Lumia family", an "affordable introduction to Microsoft services" and the "commitment to connecting the next billion to the Internet". Nokia does say X phones will "run Android apps" (much like BlackBerry 10, Tizen or Sailfish perhaps) but at no point does it explain that is because the phones run on Android!

Nokia X

Having clearly had a heavy hand in the wording of the release, the response from Microsoft has been ice cold. Speaking before the launch yesterday senior Windows Phone vice president Joe Belfiore said "What they [Nokia] do as a company is what they do... Certainly they'll do some things that we're excited about, and some things that we may be less excited about."

More amusing is Belfiore was speaking after the unveiling of Windows Phone 8.1. The key change of which is its reduced hardware requirements so it can run on lower power chipsets to make cheaper handset prices targeting emerging markets. Whoops.

Look at little closer at Nokia X, however, there is some logic to its development. Given the X range is running 18-month old Android 4.1.2 rather than the newer, leaner and more efficient Android 4.4 it is clear the project was started some time ago. A time when the Microsoft deal was a long way off being concluded and it is arguably evidence to counter conspiracy theorists view that the sale was planned all along.

But why release it now a sale has been agreed? Quite frankly Nokia has history in launching pointless projects. It released the N9 (below), the sole handset built on its Intel co-developed Meego operating system, despite having signed an agreement to develop smartphones exclusively for Windows Phone six months earlier. The company admitted it would be a one-off and it was no more than an exercise in trying to recoup in-house development costs. With the handset division sale signed off it appears the company took the view that no harm could be done from performing the same trick again.


Aside from this benefits to Nokia are hard to fathom. Revenue generation from selling Android apps in the Nokia Store? A plan to relaunch selling Android phones? Groundwork on a Finnish dream team partnership with Jolla on its Android-app compatible Sailfish OS? They seem pretty flimsy considering the enterprise focused networking business Nokia will be left with.

So what about benefits to Microsoft? Letting Nokia recoup Android phone development costs was almost certainly a condition of sale. Meanwhile, it might derive some value from the confusion the X series causes to the Android brand and it may offer coding insight should Microsoft want to make Windows Phone compatible with Android apps, but this is grasping at straws.

Joe Belfiore 2

More pertinent in our minds is the damage this laggy (according to initial reports) Windows Phone look-a-like with the potential for badly ported apps could do to the long term goal of selling cheap Windows Phone 8.1 handsets. After all with the Nokia X range eschewing all signs of Google’s presence – including the Google Play Store, Google Maps, Gmail, Google Search and Chrome – in favour of Microsoft alternatives, the target market will likely see it as a shoddy version of Windows Phone not Android.

All of which means we struggle to see any reason Microsoft would not and should not kill the X range the moment it officially takes control of the Nokia handset division. That could be as soon as the end of March and we suspect right now Joe Belfiore (above) is crossing off the days in his calendar and lovingly sharpening a big axe.

Go to comments


February 24, 2014, 5:28 pm

MS has inherited an entire team of Nokia developers, they could let them continue to work on this project and offer it as a full alternative to OEMs to use as a free alternative to GMS. That would mean companies like HTC and Sony could choose to pay a fee and be forced to accept all of Google's services, even those that directly compete with their own, or they could use the free alternative and swap out components as they see fit.
As far as Nokia, if these phones challenge Samsung in the developing world that will make some version of MS Mobile #1 and #2 in many markets. At what point does it not matter what's under the hood so much as long as the hardware and software is MS owned?


February 24, 2014, 5:31 pm

I never thought this would be a good idea, and Microsoft should have made it a condition of their purchase of Nokia's mobile division that these phones never see the light of day.

Both Nokia and Microsoft have gotten flak for their previous abandonment of phones, both perceived and real; Nokia for the N9 and Microsoft for the Kin and also the lack of upgrade path from WP7 to WP8. Now Microsoft will be stuck with another unloved product that they either need to keep on life support for a reasonable time, or just axe it as soon as possible. I can't see either option being good for Microsoft.


February 24, 2014, 5:38 pm

There would be difficulties in convincing other OEMs into using this flavour of Android. Google recently made changes so that it will only certify phones now using the latest versions of Android, and with this release being based on 18 month old code it would cause the OEMs issues when porting their apps to the platform. Never mind them having to rewrite their apps just for theme issues.

Google also have form for pressuring manufacturers that try to produce both Android phones and Android derived phones. Would another OEM be willing to lose their Android licenses and jump ship to this implementation? I personally can't see it.


February 24, 2014, 5:46 pm

It's easy to see, Samsung, the only OEM that consistently profits from Android, has gone to the expense of trying to build a new platform entirely. MS should take all those Nokia developers and put them to work cloning GMS APIs (just as Google did with Java) and eliminate the compatibility issue, that would allow them to offer a truly FREE alternative to GMS without any issues with porting apps. It would save OEMs licensing fees and keep them from having to deal with Google's business practice of forcing it's properties to be paramount. Which many OEMs obviously consider to be both predatory and anti-competitive.

Gordon Kelly

February 24, 2014, 5:47 pm

Valid points, but I don't think they stand up.
I can't see any appeal in HTC and Sony 'Android' handsets without the Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps, Chrome, Google Search, etc. Neither company plays in the sector where the licence fee of 'full Android' is prohibitive to their pricing... just look what Motorola achieved with the Moto G.

For the target market for these phones what the OS is doesn't really matter, but it matters greatly to Microsoft that it is creating a naff Windows Phone look-a-like that either a) damages the perception of Windows Phone just as it is about to go after that market, or b) sees people realise they are on Android and the apps they purchase are not what is available on Windows Phone.

I see no win for Microsoft with this long or short term.

Gordon Kelly

February 24, 2014, 5:50 pm

There's no long term in this. Were this masterplan to actually work and genuinely start cutting into sales of 'full' Android handsets and Google products and services Google would shut it down.


February 24, 2014, 5:59 pm

HTC is probably soon to be out of business and Sony is a non-factor in mobile. But if Sony wants to build a smartphone that sees it's gaming property be the central focus they can't, because Google won't let them. Perhaps if they had an alternative they would feel compelled to use it.
I would wager that the top 100 apps are on all three platforms today and I would wager further that almost no user utilizes all of those 100 apps. The app argument is overblown, no one was saying that the Google market was lacking when it too had 250,000 apps. We are talking about phones with 4-8 GB of storage, these are not users who are out hunting every Indy app that is released.
The WP to Android dynamic is no different with this than it was yesterday but the dynamic for Google could look a whole lot different going forward.

Gordon Kelly

February 24, 2014, 6:03 pm

We'll have to agree to disagree.


February 24, 2014, 6:04 pm

Google can't even control 60% of the Android ecosystem as it is. Their own arguments in court that APIs can't be patented would preclude them from doing anything about it. The only barrier is cost, which really isn't a factor for MS. They are already paying a group of people that work on Android, shift the focus to cloning GMS and make Android truly free.


February 24, 2014, 7:34 pm

Yep, in the developing world most Android powered devices already bypass Google's app market. The app argument is meaningless in places like Asia, Russia, africa, and the middle east where apps are sideloaded or alternative markets are in use today anyway.


February 24, 2014, 8:00 pm

Nice feature Gordon.

I had a play with both devices at the Nokia stand at MWC today and the Nokia staff went to great pains to explain that it was made to look like Windows 8 and was intended as a low cost interim step for users to get from a low cost Nokia Android to a higher end Nokia Windows Phone without feeling totally out of their depth. They also made it very clear that any app that connect to Google's API (e.g. map location services) in any way WOULD NOT work on these phones.

The UI looks like a dumb version of the tile interface which I actually found quite approachable and pleasant although butter smooth it was not.

Gordon Kelly

February 25, 2014, 3:07 am

Thanks. I think even if it is a good experience it is for Windows Phone was Windows RT was to Windows 8... something which muddies its identity. The future for Microsoft is surely getting Windows Phone 8.1 to scale like Android KitKat, though it already does a pretty good job in my opinion. I can't see this lasting long, either way.

Gordon Kelly

February 25, 2014, 3:10 am

Google didn't try to control its ecosystem, that was pretty much its problem - especially as it now looks to strike more of a balance between Apple's walled-garden despotism and Android's open source ideals.

Regardless, Microsoft resting its budget phones' future on the source code of a rival is not a viable - nor smart - long term strategy.


February 25, 2014, 3:30 am

Not sure why you're fixated on Google's version of Android, it's out there already, MS already competes with it. If there are three major mobile platforms, why not own one entirely and have a strong presence on the other two? Google would like very much to diminish fragmentation on Android, which is why they make essential functionality more proprietary with every iteration of GMS. It's in MS long term interest to keep it fragmented. A good way to do so is to maintain a viable version of Android that doesn't monetize Google in any fashion while simultaneously monetizing the version Google itself maintains with licensing fees and apps. This is a good way to keep Google from ever being the Windows of Mobile, always have a version they can't control that runs the same software on the same devices at a lower initial buy in point than their version.

Gordon Kelly

February 25, 2014, 10:03 am

Because Google maintains that version of Android and while it is usable now it needs ongoing development. Are you really suggesting that if Google stopped support of the base version of Android that a) it would be good enough in 5 years, or b) that Microsoft should take on its ongoing development?

Neither makes sense. If Google wants to take a tighter control of Android (and signs are it does) there is nothing anyone can do about it. You don't build a rival business around that.

Apple didn't rely on licensing Google Maps, neither did Microsoft. If they have already demonstrated they aren't comfortable relying on Google for just mapping why would you think Microsoft would be comfortable relying on a whole platform?!

Prem Desai

February 25, 2014, 10:13 am

Agree with Gordon - what on earth is this phone? Why would anyone buy this instead of a Moto G or the countless budget options already out there?
Even if this phone has already been developed, why waste resources manufacturing it, rolling out out, supporting it, etc?????!!!!!

I'm really frustrated with Microsoft AND Nokia.

Nokia is, arguably, one of the finest phone manufacturers out there.

Microsoft is still THE software company.

Between them, if they get their focus right, they can produce products that can lead the pack - not follow them.

They have the know-how to make ios and android look like the schoolboy effort that they really are.

Come on guys (Microsoft and Nokia), get it sorted. Become the world class players that you are .......


February 25, 2014, 11:36 am

" a good way to keep Google from ever being the Windows of Mobile" I think if you look at their global market share, Android is already the Windows of mobile. MS and co are merely trying to claw back market share whilst the global number of Android activations continues to rise at over a million users a day.


February 25, 2014, 12:26 pm

A large part of what we count as 'android' isn't in the Google bucket at all, like the Nokia X won't generate a dime for a Google just like the Kindle fire and all those versions in Asia don't. MS has a vested interest in ensuring that as many Android powered devices it can are never monetized by Google, and so do a lot of others who have to see their own properties take a back seat to Google's on the World's largest mobile platform, a situation that largely doesn't exist for Windows.


February 25, 2014, 12:42 pm

It isn't reliance at all.
OK a few points, due to fragmentation the vast majority of Android users are never on the most recent version of the software, so google has to support older versions and the apps that run on them, so being a version behind is no big deal because in reality everyone in the ecosystem is at least a version behind, is kit Kat on even 10% today?
MS is building Windows Phone, it's not going anywhere, especially in the developed world where app store reign supreme. But there's no reason why, strategically, it shouldn't build an Android platform for it's services, which are subscription based and platform agnostic, entire companies are built on this in mobile as well as it's Bing ad business. What does it matter if five years from now half of MS mobile revenue comes from devices powered by a forked version of android it controls and that features it's services? Does it matter for amazon? That would just mean that Google will really be in trouble five years from now as they would be trying to sale their version of android (fees payable to MS and certification cost) while MS is giving away it's version free.
Nokia already has a team that does nothing but work on ASOP. that piece MS inherits and is already on the books. Make Google compete against it's own products, while simultaneously competing with yours, both of which generate revenue, for you, sounds pretty smart to me.

Gordon Kelly

February 25, 2014, 12:47 pm

Let's see who is right in 18 months.


February 25, 2014, 12:53 pm

Good enough, if MS doesn't smother Rosemary's baby in the crib.


February 26, 2014, 12:29 am

Microsoft will not be buying all of Nokia. This project is one of the parts that is not up for sale.


February 26, 2014, 9:27 am

It's buying the phone division and the remaining part of Nokia can't enter the phone market for a fixed amount of time, so I can't see how that's true.


February 27, 2014, 6:09 am

I like the slogan "SAME CODE BASE. NEW USER BASE" at http://developer.nokia.com/nok...
It doesn't look like a dead end... at least today :-)

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