MWC 2014: Nokia Shows Off Forked-Android Nokia X Smartphones

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Nokia X looks to expand Microsoft services’ reach in emerging markets, by adopting Android, but swapping Google’s services for Microsoft’s Bing and Skype, and Here maps

Nokia has revealed three affordable smartphones in the new Android powered Nokia X range at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, as it attempts to use the wide availability of Android applications as a way of introducing users, particularly in the developing world, to Microsoft.

The four-inch Nokia X, slightly superior spec Nokia X+ and the five-inch Nokia XL all run a forked version of Android, and will come preloaded with a Nokia app store, along with partner marketplaces such as Yandex.

Nokia will curate the app store and redirect users to partner stores, while offering developers a way of monetising their apps to people who are used to software being free. Google Play will not be supported though, with Microsoft and Nokia services such as HERE maps, Bing and Skype replacing Google’s services, and users given 10GB of OneDrive storage and free calls on Skype for a month.

“Nokia X takes people to Microsoft’s cloud, not Google’s cloud,” declared Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.

Looks a lot like Lumia

Nokia X MWC 2014 (2)

The smartphones appear similar to Windows Phone, with applications represented as tiles that can be resized, feature support for dual SIM cards and SD cards

“All three devices give people access to Android apps but unlike competitors, users get access to Nokia experiences,” added Elop. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to reach new people with the Nokia X family”

Given that Microsoft, which is about to complete a £4.6 billion takeover of Nokia’s handset business, has been pushing Windows Phone so heavily, it is surprising that it has chosen to release a smartphone running Android.

However Elop stated that its Windows Phone-powered range of smartphones will continue to be its primary strategy and that Nokia X handsets would usually be cheaper than those in its Lumia range, although there might be some overlap.

Feeder phone

“In the last years we’ve seen a dramatic shift in smartphone sales,” he said. “We’re going for it at multiple price points to support different needs.”

Elop dismissed claims that the use of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) was an admission that Nokia’s decision to use Windows Phone in 2011 was a bad one, saying that Android was merely a way of attracting users to more expensive phones and Microsoft services.

“We have four distinct tiers of product,” he said, referring to its basic phones, Asha range, Nokia X range and Nokia Lumia.

Analysts believe the strategy is the correct one.: “Nokia’s move into Android demonstrates that an Android victory in the smartphone market does not automatically mean a Google victory,” said Ian Fogg, head of mobile analysis at IHS. “Like many Chinese smartphone makers, and Amazon with its Kindle Fire, Nokia is taking the free Android software, adding its own user interface and content, and then shipping Android hardware without including any of Google’s services.

Expanding range

Nokia X Press (4)“Using Android is the right strategic move for Nokia. Asha had a number of neat user interface innovations, most notably the Fastlane quick access area, yet Asha was held back by weak app support. But Nokia X would have had greater chance of success if Nokia had launched Nokia X a year ago, when the smartphone market was less mature and Android smartphones had not fallen so low in price.”

Nokia did not make any announcements regarding the Lumia range, but did reveal a new basic phone, the Nokia 220, which Elop said was “out most affordable internet ready mobile phone,” costing just €29 and a way of connecting the “next billion people” to the Internet using mobile devices. It also showed off the Nokia Asha 230, its  cheapest touchscreen device, costing €45 and said a software update would soon be available for much of the range.

The Nokia X will be available immediately for €89, and the Nokia X and Nokia XL will be available in the second quarter of 2014, costing €99 and €109 respectively.

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