How Nokia’s Android X phones could backfire

March 5, 2014

nokiax-7

It has taken a long time to come, but Nokia finally unveiled a new range of Android smartphones at MWC in Barcelona. The Nokia X, X+, and XL are entry-level smartphones designed to act as “feeder” devices. Nokia CEO Elop imagines them to be like a gateway drug that will hook you into Microsoft’s ecosystem, encouraging you to try the harder stuff, in the shape of Windows Phone, if you want a bigger buzz.

We think this strategy has a few flaws in it. The sight of Android smartphones from Nokia is a welcome one, but the X phone experiment could be a massive fail for Nokia and its master Microsoft.

What’s the deal?

Nokia took the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) code and built its own UX on top. It looks like Windows Phone’s ugly sister. In place of Google apps and services, we find Nokia’s Here Maps and MixRadio, along with Microsoft’s Outlook.com, Skype, and OneDrive.

New apps are available from Nokia’s Android app store, instead of the Play Store. Some existing Android apps apparently require limited changes to be ported across, but on its developer site Nokia estimates that 75% of Android apps will run without modification, so developers just need to publish them in the Nokia Store.

The X factor

It may not work out precisely as planned, but there are definitely some smart things about this move. There’s no doubt Microsoft lacks a decent presence at the budget end of the market. We discussed that recently when we asked, what if Microsoft made Android smartphones?

Nokia is the best manufacturer in the world when it comes to creating really cheap phones. Before the X phone unveil, the company showed off its latest Asha releases. The 230 is an entry-level smartphone with a touchscreen, cloud services, streaming MixRadio for music, and all the basics you’d expect and it costs just $62.

The basic Nokia X is $120, the X+ is $140, and the XL is $150. You always get a solid build quality with Nokia and these prices are really competitive. Having said that, the specs are really basic and you’d be much better served opting for a Moto G if you could extend your budget to $180.

nokia-xl-3

Best case scenario

We can safely assume that some people will go for something in the Nokia X line-up. Despite how easy it is to sideload and root, most people don’t want to. A decent proportion of buyers will use the phones as they come out of the box. That means that they’ll get used to a Windows Phone style interface and, more importantly, that they’ll start investing in Microsoft’s cloud and services. There’s a potential hook there that might pull them towards Windows Phone when upgrade time rolls around.

Nokia’s argument is that the best way to get an upgraded experience from the Nokia X line will be to pick up a Lumia running Windows Phone. It’s a slicker, faster version of the same UX and you can easily access your purchased content, backed up photos, and everything else from Microsoft’s cloud services.

nokia-xl-2

Wait just a minute

There are several problems with Nokia’s idea.

First of all, why wouldn’t you choose an Android smartphone when it comes time to upgrade? Most of Microsoft’s apps are already available on the Android platform and Nokia’s X experiment means that all their apps will be too. It swings both ways, if it’s easy to use Android apps on Nokia X phones then it’s easy to port Nokia apps the other way. That means there’s even less that’s exclusive to the Windows Phone ecosystem. Even if you’re invested in Microsoft and Nokia services, you won’t have to use Windows Phone to enjoy them.

This raises another obvious problem. The Nokia X line helps to highlight how many Android apps and games are still not available for Windows Phone. If you get used to using any of them on your Nokia X, what happens when you look at switching to Windows Phone and learn that you’ll have to leave them behind? Maybe you reconsider and opt for a better Android smartphone instead.

All this before you explore the possibilities of sideloading and rooting to strip Nokia and Microsoft off your X phone and replace them with Google services, which is going to be relatively easy to do. Nokia is now serving Google by producing decent, incredibly cheap hardware that can be used as an unadulterated Google Android phone.

nokiax-4

Between a rock and hard place

There’s a weird conundrum at the heart of all this. Nokia, or more accurately Microsoft, needs the X phones to be noticeably worse than Windows Phone devices. Anyone wishing Nokia would unleash its high-end hardware know-how on Android is not going to be satisfied by the X phones.

Nokia is going to have to keep its Android line at budget prices, in a market segment where the Lumia line does not compete.

It’s also going to have to make sure that the X phones don’t outshine the Lumia phones, which may account for the lack of polish in the user interface. Nokia’s X phones are running a dated version of Android on low-end hardware and consequently they are laggy.  If they were running 4.4, which is deliberately optimized for low-end hardware, there’s little doubt the experience would be snappier and more impressive.

If consumers buy an X phone and the experience is bad then it’s more likely they’ll be turned off Nokia for good. If you’re unhappy with your phone, you don’t think “I know… I’ll buy a more expensive phone from this company”. You’re more likely to think “I’ll try a different manufacturer.”

It’s more than 18 months since we discussed how Android could save Nokia. The X phones look like much too little, and far too late. We think it’s a gamble that won’t pay off, but it does allow Microsoft to gather some data and test the waters without being seen to make a move itself, and it will be easy to quietly pack away if its decided that the experiment is doing more harm than good.

Comments

  • Paul Reich

    I’ve always held the wish that Nokia would product genuine Android phones; Nokia makes quality hardware and their mobile imaging is, in my opinion, second to none. I think Nokia could have rekindled their ailing phone segment by going Android. Sadly, with the sale to Microsoft, that will never happen. Microsoft just won’t release hardware driving additional numbers to Google services.

    Pity.

    • Mikesphoneandtab

      It’s really a loss for Nokia though. Android doesn’t need Nokia but Nokia could really use Android. Let’s see how well MS uses Nokia.

    • Cal Rankin

      I would appreciate if CyanogenMod builds were available for Lumia phones. Imagine running a fully functional build of CM 11 on the Nokia Lumia 1020.

  • RФMƩФ DEMIGФĎ

    FIRST OF ALL TELL ME ONE THING EVEN IF WE GET THIS PHONE AND USE IT VIA OTHER LAUNCHERS HOW CAN YOU USE IT WITHOUT A HOME BUTTON OR A MULTITASKING BUTTON YES I KNOW LONG PRESS THE BACK TAKES YOU HOME AND STILL WE MISS A MULTITASKING BUTTON SO IT WILL B ANNOYING

    • MasterMuffin

      HOLY BALLS CAPS LOCK

      • RФMƩФ DEMIGФĎ

        EXACTLY

    • Bridger Reif Hammond

      Onscreen button you idiot.

      • RФMƩФ DEMIGФĎ

        ALREADY THE SCREEN IS TOO SMALL U FOOL N STILL HAVING ANOTHER BACK BUTTON BELOW WILL B SOO AWKWARD

    • A.S.

      Can not say abuot other launcher but u can do multitasking with fastlane in nokia x same as in asha divices..

      • RФMƩФ DEMIGФĎ

        YUP UR RT DUDE BUT THEN WE HAVE TO USE JUST THE DEFAULT LAUNCHER NOKIA X COMES WITH AND IT’S NOT ACTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE WE CAN USE NOVA OR APEX GESTURES THE ONLY THING IS IT WILL B JUST ANNOYING THE THING TO NOTICE IS HOW CUNNING NIKIA REALLY IS LOL NOT BAD NOKIA THEY ARE SMART TO GIVE JUST ONE PHYSICAL BUTTON :P

  • David Avila

    Nokia’s strategy will backfire, people will look for Android apps and OS when it is time to change phones, also that strategy isn’t very good considering the ties with Microsoft, ties that won’t be broken, in fact, if Microsoft begins to feel threatened by the phone, the X line would be dead, and people know that, that is why they wont take much risks in buying such device

  • Luka Mlinar

    If they wanted to make a good phone they would have made it. This is just to prove that Android doesn’t suit Nokia. After these 3 phones fail they will go back exclusively to WP with an accuse, saying: “when you wanted it, no one bought it”. To hell with this company. If Microsoft wants to run it to the ground it will be on their hands.

    • Mikesphoneandtab

      That’s an expensive and meaningless point to prove. As a hardware manufacturer, their primary goal should be making just that, making the best hardware that they can. There has to be a reason that a hardware company that has no legal connection to Microsoft until recently is trying to force a Microsoft UI and Microsoft features upon an Android device they have no legal obligation to do so with.

      If I were dumb and just tried to call it like I saw it I would say something like “Microsoft is trying to spite Google’s Android through Nokia as a final Hoorah after Nokia officially signs on for Microsoft”, when in reality Nokia’s software designers are probably on their own on this for the very reason they haven’t been purchased by MS and they are horrible at software which sounds like a much more realistic conclusion.

      • arcwindz

        Well, i obviously don’t know how things work after nokia got merged, but i don’t think a product will come out without higher up go sign.
        If it comes to marketing, not production, doing a move like this is possible i guess. It can be nokia just testing the water with android (which bring the half-hearted commitment) , or making people look at windows system through android

      • Luka Mlinar

        You got to think of it as which of these two will cost them more if it’s fails; Nokia or WP. If Nokia releases a Vanilla Android phone, it will be like admitting defeat. I ain’t no Finn but if some big company comes to my country and burns one of biggest companys to the ground just to play a chess move, people would go to the streets with torches and pitchforks.

    • Simon Hill

      I think maybe Nokia developed an Android phone as a bargaining tool to force Microsoft’s hand in the merger. The WP deal was expiring, Nokia might ditch the platform and adopt Android, Microsoft had to buy now.

      • Guest123

        if that were the case, it would never have been released after the deal was done. MS is behind this.

        • Simon Hill

          It may have started that way, but I agree there’s no way it went out the door without Microsoft’s blessing.

  • Paul

    Just imagine if Nokia had made Androids right from the start – instead of putting all of their eggs in Microsoft’s basket. They would have been able to compete with the likes of Samsung from a very strong position because at that time – Nokia was still held in very high regard in the consumer’s mind. I honestly believe that Microsoft killed Nokia & then consequently purchased them for a very low price. It’s kinda messed up if you think about it.

    • arcwindz

      Microsoft bought nokia’s ceo :p
      I remember reading a comment where it’s said that the ceo bring nokia’s value to such a low point then let ms bought it XD

    • Simon Hill

      Was Elop a Trojan horse? It does look a lot like it.

    • T.J.

      It looks that way to me too.

  • Dylian

    “This raises another obvious problem. The Nokia X line helps to highlight how many Android apps and games are still not available for Windows Phone. If you get used to using any of them on your Nokia X, what happens when you look at switching to Windows Phone and learn that you’ll have to leave them behind? Maybe you reconsider and opt for a better Android smartphone instead.”

    My best guess is that Microsoft will make is possible to run Android apps on Windows Phone to solve this problem. They are now filling their “own” app store (at this moment Nokia’s) and at the time that all Nokia X* buyers are ready for upgrading they will be able to keep all the apps they bought when they “upgrade” to a Windows Phone device.

    Just my thoughts :-).

    • Mikesphoneandtab

      If that’s the case then this would be a much bigger backfire than one against just Nokia. Windows phone getting Android apps without the Android integration would only leave customers craving Android’s ecosystem. It’ll also cause for a more disjointed experience and go against the whole “Scroogled” initiative MS has been trying to pull. Not to mention, look at BlackBerry, they tried to dip into Android as a last ditch and where are they now?

  • john

    “Moto G if you could extend your budget to $180.”

    Would be nice if true but in developing countries (where the Nokia X will actually be sold), the Moto G sells for $200 to $250+. In the Philippines it is about $230.

    • Simon Hill

      Fair point, we tend to get stiffed in the UK too, compared to US prices. The Moto G launched at around $220 here, but it has dropped as low as $170 now.

  • Guest123

    IMHO this is about lock-in. MS knows that locking in customers, one way or the other, is the best way to guarantee success. If they can get users locked into their app store they can deal with the necessary adjustments later. Right now, they are bleeding mobile customers, and they need to find a way to lock them into their ecosystem instead of google or apple getting them.

    Just look at apple’s trial against sammy in Australia — their main complaint is, if people use an Android device they will be satisfied enough to NOT become locked into apple’s ecosystem. This is exactly the same thing MS has done for years — lock users into file types, software platforms, etc. . . They are now scrambling for anything that will get customers to use their app store and products.

  • CheeseMonsterHD

    I cant wait to see Micro$oft fail with this, just as they did with the Xbone.

  • http://gadgeticmusings.net/ Soul_Est

    Considering how SwiftKey will be loaded on the X series (http://www.swiftkey.net/en/blog/nokia/), I can see ONE of the issues with performance. (SwiftKey the resource hog on a low-end device? Really?)

  • Justin Curtright

    This entire excuse of a “feeder phone” reeks of bullshit. The Lumia 520 is a full Windows Phone that is $60 right now, on Amazon. Literally half the price for the full OS. The Lumia 520 is also THE best selling and fastest selling Windows Phone there is with a fully one quarter of all Windows Phones at this moment being Lumia 520/521 handsets. By absolutely all definitions Nokia and Microsoft already have a very clear winner for themselves in the low-end segment, so it is absolutely baffling to me why they would undermine one of the only sccesses they have had with their entire mobile division.

  • Bridger Reif Hammond

    Even though I hate these phones and stopped using all M$ products, it just goes to show you one thing that’s better on Android than any other platform. Try doing something like this with an iPhone.

  • Karteek

    Nokia …. a Mighty Brand … it was.
    Now ..
    All gone.. today i meddled deeply with a Lumia.. well its a peace of rotten potato.
    n whn compared it to a basic ICS … ICS is far Better.

    n for d new …X …. well y do they call it a Android OS. .. Android should ban them from Spoiling their name using wrong Android inceptions. #disgrace Nokia.

    do At least one proper Android phone n see how Mighty u get back into.

  • Rohit Naik

    Nokia X – The Android phone which is not an Android Phone

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ecmd8ATmLM