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BLOG: Android was never an option for Nokia

Steven Max Patterson | Sept. 18, 2013
The idea that Nokia would seriously consider switching from Windows Phone to Android is just silly.

The idea that Nokia threatened to dump Windows Phone for Android to force the Microsoft buyout is just silly. Imagine Nokia's Stephen Elop entering the room to negotiate the acquisition and threatening Microsoft's Steve Balmer with "If you don't buy us, we will switch to Android."

Maybe Elop did, but only as a joke, because the threat would just make Balmer laugh. Nokia engineers porting Android to Lumia hardware is one thing; Nokia engineers porting Android to Lumia hardware for a good business reason is an entirely different consideration.

Nokia had 3,000 open source software engineers in the mid 2000's. Before it was restructured by Elop, Nokia was very much an open innovation company. A large part of Nokia's success and the worldwide mobile leadership that Europe enjoyed up until five years ago was due to the open GSM standard that gave all competitors a level playing field. Nokia has open source DNA.

Up until Elop was hired to right Nokia from its losing battle with Android and the iPhone, Nokia's phones were based on the Symbian OS. Symbian was not quite open source, but it was a source code-level collaboration between handset manufacturers of the time, including Nokia, Motorola, Siemens, Sony-Ericsson, Panasonic and Samsung. Symbian was created to thwart Microsoft's threat of becoming the predominant handset OS with Windows Phone and commoditizing hardware manufacturers with high taxes (royalties) in the same way that it commoditized PC makers. Symbian, which once powered 80% of the handsets, was designed to run on an ARM processor.

During the many years it led the handset market, Nokia led or joined most of the open mobile alliances in opposition to Microsoft. Before seeking outside leadership, Nokia and the Linux foundation led the development of Meego that was introduced at the Mobile World Congress in 2010 as an antidote to the iPhone. Meego, a Linux derivative, was also designed to run on the ARM processor.

The processors powering Nokia Lumia smartphones are - you guessed it - ARM processor. Android is a Linux derivative that was designed to be powered by - you guessed it again - an ARM processor.

Porting Android to new hardware is what open source hackers like to do. A great example of open source hacking is the favorite third-party Android ROM, CyanogenMod. It's an open source project maintained by just a few people. That the Nest thermostat runs Android is an indication that it is feasible to port Android to almost any ARM-powered device.

It was probably more difficult to port Windows Phone to the Lumia hardware than to Android. I would also bet there are more than a few Nokia engineers right now depending on Android to operate their Lumia phones.


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