Nokia is planning to release a new Android phone which runs it very own app store, not Google Play, which analysts say forks the operating system, discouraging developers and confusing users.
The Wall Street Journal said yesterday that “people familiar with the matter” confirm Nokia will unveil the device at one of the largest mobile device trade shows, the Mobile World Congress, later this month in Barcelona, Spain.
So how will “el tenedor” cause user confusion? For starters, this new phone is, on two levels, technically a Windows phone. Microsoft will soon complete its acquisition of Nokia and as the Redmond giant has struggled to make any headway in the very competitive mobile handset market, they are happy to control what could be a successful low-cost alternative for first time phone buyers, even if they have to do it by riding on the coat tails of Androids popularity.
According to industry research, sales of Android smart phone sales increased 74 percent in 2013, while Windows Phone sales declined five percent – including Nokia’s flagship Lumia smart phone based on Windows Phone 8.
Secondly, the core of the operating system (AOSP) will indeed be Android, but the software layer that users interact with, normally Google Play (GMS) on Android phones, will be completely proprietary and, according to many, will look almost identical to the current Windows Phone user interface Nokia has previously offered.
So the new Android phone by Nokia will not look like an Android phone and will not run the app store Android users expect to see, but will instead run their own app store with their own look — this is the fork, mentioned above, which Microsoft is using to stay at the table in the low-end handset market.
In some ways this may have been a reaction to Apple’s “C” level iPhones, a lower costs alternative to their premiums offering, although recent reports indicate that this was a misstep for Apple so why does Microsoft/Nokia still think it is a good idea remains mysterious.
Why may developers be discouraged? At least iOS developers only need to focus on a handful of releases and screen sizes when producing software for the platform. Android developers often throw up their hands when confronted with the staggering variation in the hardware, back-end and front-end services which comprise the Android user device base.
It’s not yet clear where Nokia plans to push its Android device, but some reports have suggested that emerging markets such as India and China are likely. Many developers may question the utility in developing for an “Android on the bottom, Windows on the top” phone aimed at users least likely to make purchases in their app store.
Of course this new fork of Android may prove a shrewd move if it turns out that Nokia can run their own app store and provide services people want on their phone – Amazon’s Kindle comes to mind. It will do little, however, to change the perception that, more and more, calling a device an “Android Phone” could mean just about anything.
By Brian Ryer