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How Nokia's fake Windows phone could save the real one

Mark Hachman | Feb. 3, 2014
Something very interesting is going on at Nokia: The company apparently believes that the look, feel, and underlying services of the Microsoft Windows Phone operating system may be more important than, well, the OS itself.

Aside from the social aspect — Nokia lacks a social network, and Microsoft's social play, So.cl, is barely breathing — Golvin's investment thesis nicely justifies the Nokia X's development.

Welcome to the Microsoft cloud
The phone's leaked specifications suggest a low-cost, entry-level phone, with a minimal barrier to entry. That's a plus. And we also know that Nokia has invested in developing an emerging market strategy around its third-world Asha phones — which, to be fair, have struggled. Nokia's recent fourth-quarter report noted that sales of its mobile phones had fallen "due to increasingly lower price points and intense competition at the low end" of its product portfolio. So Nokia needs a low-cost phone to entice customers, but more than just price to keep them in the fold.

What the Android-based Nokia X offers the Windows Phone ecosystem is a path into Microsoft's cloud services. Microsoft already offers Android versions of SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype, Bing, and Office Mobile. And as most users know, once the data is inside those services, it's much easier to stick with them than to export and upload that data to a competing service, and start fresh.

If you take the @evleaks as gospel, however, Nokia hasn't given itself over completely to that philosophy. What the screenshots reveal is a rather neutral selection of services: The only Microsoft-owned service that appears is Skype. A missed opportunity? A screenshot that doesn't represent the default configuration? Or Nokia just playing it safe? Possibly a bit of all three. If Nokia, and later Microsoft, don't supersaturate the mix with Microsoft services, they're missing the boat. 

(Nokia will have to be careful, however, so as not to risk the ire of Google. Reports have said that Google will tolerate tweaks and forks of the Android OS. But try and replace Gmail, for example, and Google could dig in its heels.)

Not a perfect solution, by any stretch
But it's the UI that, if "Normandy" is real, will grab headlines. This isn't quite Windows Phone, obviously. While the layout is decidedly Microsoft-inspired, it's not clear whether Android can emulate the urban energy of the constantly-refreshing Live Tiles. The Normandy UI is essentially "training wheels," helping customers bridge the gap between Android and Windows Phone.

As Golvin notes, there's some value in learning the look and feel of a UI. I'm simply not sure that Nokia can mimic Windows Phone closely enough with Android to allow customers to benefit from that experience.

But what's the real reason for layering the Windows Phone UI on top of Android? Apps.

The Windows Phone app market still struggles, especially in comparison to Android. But if Microsoft can capture most of the data — email, searches, documents, among others — it can cede some of the less-important applications to the Android platform. Let's face it: Even the most devout Windows Phone enthusiast probably wouldn't mind a bulletproof YouTube app, for example, or the ability to use Snapchat or WhatsApp.

 

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