Contrary to expectations, it has emerged that Microsoft will continue to make Nokia’s nascent line of Android handsets now that it has acquired Nokia’s phone business. Does this suggest that Microsoft are expecting Windows Phone to fail?
Wait, what? Go back to the beginning.
Towards the end of last year, Microsoft announced that it was buying Nokia’s mobile phone business. As these things take time (due to due diligence and all of the tedious business machinations), the deal only closed at the end of last month. Whilst this was a big deal in itself, it was especially odd that in the middle of it Nokia – which was still operating as a separate company at the time – announced plans for a series of Android handsets.
The Nokia X and XL were the first non-Windows Phone Nokia devices since the company’s conversion to the Church of Bill Gates. Which was weird timing to say the least.
What was the rationale?
At the time, the opinion of the punditry was that it would enable Nokia to more effectively compete in developing markets (like China), where Android would be cheaper. The Android operating system is open source and free – so there would be no costly licensing fees to pass on to consumers, and it can run on less powerful handsets.
So why isn’t Microsoft killing it and forcing everyone on to Windows Phone?
Initially for similar reasons – so they can sell cheaper phones to China, rather than let the likes of Samsung or HTC grow their market share. Similarly, having an Android device means that people who would never consider Windows Phone might be tempted by an Android device from a different manufacturer.
So… why could it mean Microsoft expect Windows Phone to fail?
What’s interesting is when you speculate on why else they might want to keep Android development around.
The Nokia X didn’t just run Android – it ran a modified “fork”. This means that whilst it can run the same apps, like Amazon’s Kindle Fire it is not plugged into Google’s eco-system (Google Play, Gmail and so on). It replaces all of the Google-specific apps with their Microsoft or Nokia equivalents, for example running Nokia Maps instead. And whilst it may run Android and Android apps, visually it certainly takes its cues from Microsoft’s offering.
By retaining an Android development team, and continuing to build for Android, it means Microsoft will have its own secondary operating system ready to go at short notice. If CEO Satya Nadella decided to pull the plug on Windows Phone, it would be easy for Microsoft to switch to Android on its mobile devices, as the software would already be there.
Android is essentially an insurance policy – and it is one that just might have to pay out. Despite Microsoft’s huge push – paying for adverts, product placement and even James Corden, Windows Phone market share remains in the single digits. Is it so crazy that Microsoft might consider dropping it for their phones? Heck, you have to wonder… are they half expecting it to fail?
And in which case… wouldn’t it be nice if they had an Android-shaped back-up plan?
By James O'Malley | May 22nd, 2014