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MWC: Nokia's Android shift could be its smartest move yet

Column It might be just crazy enough to work
Mon Feb 24 2014, 14:30
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BARCELONA: NOKIA'S LOYALTIES are firmly with Microsoft, but that didn't stop it from unveiling a trio of Android powered phones at Mobile World Congress (MWC) on Monday, the Nokia X, Nokia X+ and Nokia XL.

The news of Nokia adopting Google's Android mobile operating system has promptly been labeled "brave", "a risk" and even "stupid" by some, but I think it could be one of the company's smartest moves so far, and could rebuild the firm's success in the competitive smartphone market.

That's mainly due to the fact that the Nokia X line doesn't offer a traditional Android experience. In fact, thanks to Nokia's adoption of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), it has been able to reject Google's services in favour of Microsoft's. For example, the Nokia X handsets do not offer access to the Google Play store, nor do they offer access to the usual Google Apps such as Drive, Google+, Hangouts or the use of Google search by default.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said during Monday's press conference, "The Nokia X takes people to Microsoft's cloud, not Google's cloud, which means Microsoft will be able to reach people it has never talked to, all around the world."

Thanks to its forking of the Android mobile operating system, Nokia has switched out Google's services in favour of Microsoft alternatives. Drive has been replaced by Microsoft Onedrive, Hangouts replaced by Microsoft Skype and Google search with Microsoft's Bing search engine. The Google Play store has been replaced with Nokia's App Store, which already boasts a relatively impressive selection of apps such as BBM, Vine and Fruit Ninja, with the firm promising that the number of apps will soar, as Android developers will be able to port existing apps in a matter of hours.

While the mention of Bing is unlikely to get anyone excited, I think this is a move that could pay off for Nokia and its soon to be owner Microsoft.

Of course, switching out Google's services in favour of Microsoft's will not appeal to everybody, and it is a major gamble. However, Microsoft's services are competitive and widely used, so could be a selling point for the Nokia X range of devices to some users.

This is exciting for both Nokia and Microsoft, because as Elop rightly pointed out earlier, this will expose Microsoft mobile services to potentially thousands of customers that it would not previously have reached, likely those who wouldn't have dared adopt a Windows Phone device, which much like Microsoft's Windows 8 PC operating system is still struggling to compete against the big boys in the smartphone market.

Thanks to its adoption of AOSP, Nokia has also been able to customise its devices, dressing the user interface with a design that's not too dissimilar to Microsoft's Windows Phone Live Tile interface.

This could be a very clever move indeed. Nokia's Android devices are likely to be low-end to mid-range only, with the firm targeting those who perhaps have not yet used a touchscreen device before, as well as those who want to ease themselves into the world of smartphones.

These people, however, will likely one day want to upgrade to a higher-end device, but as newcomers to the smartphone market, it's unlikely that they will want to switch to a device that is too dissimilar to what they know. This could see them opting for a higher-end Windows Phone device rather than a flagship Android phone, as not only will the tiled user interface be rather familiar, it will also come with the Microsoft services that they have grown accustomed to using.

Tony Cripps, principal analyst at Ovum, seemed to agree. He said, "Microsoft's pragmatism in adopting AOSP gives it a chance of finally taking the global consumer technology fight to Google, Apple, and Samsung. The result, in the long term, may be a company barely recognisable as the one we know today."

While some view the move as bizarre, and a risk that's unlikely to pay off, I couldn't think any more differently. With the Nokia X lineup, Nokia has the potential to drag thousands of new customers into Microsoft's ecosystem - essentially by stepping on Google's toes.

Tying people into an ecosystem is a strategy that has so far paid off for both Apple and Google, and I think Nokia could be the next success story. Sure, adopting Android to attract customers to the Microsoft ecosystem sounds a little crazy - but I think it might be so crazy that it will pay off. µ

 

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