Nokia's Android Embrace Hints at New Microsoft Openness

Bringing out an Android device could mark a new chapter for Nokia and its new owner

In coming years, business school students will ponder Nokia’s strategy and note yesterday as another ‘zig’ in the company’s zig-zagging recent history. For it seems that Nokia is to sell phones based on Google’s Android operating system in a risky move that is either realpolitik or hapless admission of failure, depending on your point of view.

The company once accounted for a chunk of Finland’s GDP and now, about to come under the ownership of Microsoft and having been trounced by Apple and Samsung in smartphone and Android across the board, it finds itself groping for a future, like a lost man picking his way through a pitch-black road with only the illuminated screen of his phone to help.

The Wall Street Journal suggests Nokia will release an Android device that has been deliberately limited (no Google Play app store, for example) to address a precipitous decline in its low-cost phone business. Although there is no suggestion that Nokia will relax its support for Microsoft’s Windows Phone, where it is the one large fish in a small pond, any switch will be scrutinised by Nokia’s (and hence Microsoft’s) partners as a change of tack.

The germane problem is that when Nokia CEO Stephen Elop famously hit ‘send’ on his ‘burning platform’ memo, signalling a shift away from its own Symbian platform and towards Microsoft, it left the company naked in Africa and other emerging markets. Symbian had been ‘Osborned’: Nokia had effectively pre-announced the demise of Symbian and therefore hastened it because buyers no longer wanted to know about the condemned operating system. So Nokia’s basic device lines eviscerated but Windows Phone units with their larger hardware profile demands could not be built cheaply enough to fill the void.

The timing of this move is significant, coming as it does at a time when Microsoft is itself at an inflexion point and having to decide whether to rely on its historic platforms or seek revenue from building on others. If this is truly  a sign that Microsoft is willing to admit that the answer to every question might not be ‘Windows’ then the future will be interesting indeed. Office for iPad, anybody? That alone might be a $2.5bn market annually which Microsoft has so far swerved in order to defend its own infant hardware business.

My hunch is that this is indeed an admission that Microsoft might need to go further afield than it has in the past in order to source its next waves of revenues. New CEO, new tactics, new Microsoft.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect