Nokia: X marks the spot for Android ambitions

Nokia — you know, that company bought by Microsoft that only makes Windows Phone 8 smartphones — has announced that it’ll offer budget smartphones running Android, by way of Microsoft. Will we see them in Australia?
At Mobile World Congress, Nokia has announced its latest handsets, starting with budget handsets under the Asha branding, and a simple “Nokia” branded phone. The Nokia 220 will cost 29 Euros, while the Asha 230 will cost 45 euros. I’m certain they’ll sell quite a few of these — cheap phones in emerging markets are a big target, which is why Firefox is targeting those areas as well — but the odds of seeing them in Australia outside of specialty importers such as Mobicity seems slim.
The big news coming from Nokia confirms rumours that the phone maker was investigating handsets built on the popular Android operating system, announcing three new handsets running on Android. The Nokia X, X+ and XL will be Nokia’s first Android handsets, priced towards mid-ranged markets, with Lumia-branded Windows Phones retaining the high end in terms of feature sets and, most notably for Nokia, imaging.
All of the Nokia X family of phones will be built on the Android Open Source Project, which essentially means that while the underlying code is Google’s Android, Nokia’s able to modify it to its needs; most notably that’ll include tiles that look remarkably Windows-like, as well as direct links to Microsoft services rather than Google ones.
That includes Apps; according to the official local release, consumers will be able to access “curated, quality-tested apps” from Nokia’s store, and comments made by Nokia’s Stephen Elop seem to suggest that they’ll also offer the ability to sideload Android apps from other sources, possibly including the Google Play store.
The smart money says that’ll be the hacker’s prerogative, however, with regular consumers in a more constrained, Microsoft-centric world, although interestingly Opera has announced that its browser will be pre-installed on the Nokia X handsets. I suppose that saves Microsoft the trouble of making an Android version of Internet Explorer.
The Nokia Lumia X and XL are 4 inch smartphones with IPS displays, dual-core 1Ghz Qualcomm processors and 3MP cameras; the primary difference between the X and X+ is that the X+ has more inbuilt storage, while the XL is the 5″ variant with a 5MP rear and 2MP front camera. They’re also all dual-SIM devices, another feature popular in lower-cost markets where price sensitivity (and thus the willing desire to switch SIMs) is reportedly a lot higher.
There’s no official word on when the Nokia X phones will hit Australia, although the local release notes that “Australia is part of our future plans for Nokia X and we will be evaluating its suitability for the Australian market with our channel partners.”
Or in other words, Nokia will try to get the telcos and larger retailers — think Harvey Norman, Dick Smith or possibly JB Hi-Fi — interested in stocking them, and that will presumably determine whether or not we see them at all.

Big bright shiny Androids. Androids with, you've got to figure, Microsoft's approval.
Big bright shiny Androids. Androids with, you’ve got to figure, Microsoft’s approval.

So what do I think?
I’m so glad you asked. I’ve been generally quite happy with Nokia’s Lumia phones — even the budget ones — of late, although Windows Phone isn’t to my own personal taste. Nokia diverging into Android phones is an interesting step without a doubt, and I’m sure plenty of folk will jump on the “even Microsoft is dumping Windows Phone” bandwagon, but this isn’t, it seems, that kind of play.
Instead it feels a bit to me as though Nokia/Microsoft are hedging their bets, and making a little money on the side to offset the acquisition cost of Nokia’s mobile devices business. Make the big money (in theory) from pricey Lumias, and then in markets where a $999 smartphone would be unobtainable, get market share and money with the cheaper devices. I’m not an expert on those markets (although I have chinwagged with journalists who are), and Nokia may face a stiff fight there, not least from the $25 smartphone that Firefox announced (and that I wrote up over at News today).
What about Australia? It very much depends on price and carrier. Nokia has bounced around Lumias between being exclusives to a carrier, to exclusives to an outlet for outright sale.
Given the slow shift towards outright ownership in Australia and away from contracts, where these kinds of phones really wouldn’t make sense anyway, the latter case would seem like a better fit for the Nokia X phones, but they’d again be in a sea of very cheap Android alternatives, at which point either the marketing has to be very smart, or the experience of Nokia’s “Windows-ified” Android would need to be a lot better than the comparable ‘Droids to really be worthwhile. As always, I’ll leave my final judgement until I’ve got handsets I can bounce off some walls.

1 thought on “Nokia: X marks the spot for Android ambitions”

  1. The real issue for Nokia (and now MS) is that the low-end spec (aka price) Lumia devices have been the most popular worldwide…and this impacts directly on the balance sheet with VERY poor margins on the units.
    So from a ROI POV – I can see why Nokia have taken this step (esp. away from the Asha OS)….Sadly ROI is a TLA which sums up so much of the woes, issues and frustrations around WP.
    Sad day.

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