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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.

Normandy likely wouldn't be a bulletproof solution. Location data, presumably, would be still fed to Google, and it's unclear whether the phone would still require establishing a Google profile. So much of this is still speculation.

Nor am I in love with the Normandy's design, which looks like a 16-bit take on the Windows Phone interface. We also don't know for sure whether the leaks are accurate, if Nokia will ever bring the phone to market, and whether Microsoft views an Android-based Windows Phone UI as a bridge or an abomination.

But whether the Nokia X exists as a product or only as a concept, it's still an intriguing experiment in rethinking priorities. And that might be one way of marketing the phone: as a low-key experiment, or perhaps a "hobby," like the Apple TV. 

Microsoft's gone down this road before. Microsoft pitched the Kin, a direct descendant of the Danger Sidekick, as a phone for the hip, connected consumer: taking pictures, storing them in the cloud, and sharing them with social networks. On paper, the phone was ahead of its time. In reality, the Kin's subpar hardware lagged badly, and polling social networks for updates every 15 minutes simply undermined its premise.

The Nokia X would likely fail as well, if launched as a mainstream smartphone. Under the harsh light of the tech press — "it's a knockoff Windows Phone!" — the phone would surely wither.

Reports claim that the Nokia X will be unveiled at Mobile World Conference in a few weeks' time, one drop in a flood of smartphones. That's fine. Experiments like the Nokia X deserve a little time in the shade to establish themselves.

The Nokia X won't change the world. Microsoft won't hitch it to the future of Windows Phone. But convince customers in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia and South America to adopt it, and Nokia and Microsoft may just establish themselves as the favorite platform of the next-next generation of smartphone buyers.

 

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