One of the most interesting single pieces of news to come out of the Mobile World Congress 2014is the announcement that Nokia has thrown itself under the wheels of the Android juggernaut by rolling out its own line of Android-powered smartphones in the form of Nokia X, “a family of smartphones that run Android(TM) apps, Microsoft services and signature Nokia experiences,” just before new acquirer Microsoft is due to pick it up.
Announced under the somewhat disingenuous headline “Nokia connects the next billion with affordable smartphones,” Nokia’s announcement details both the individual phones to be brought to market under the new plan – though calling it that may be a bit too polite, for reasons detailed below – and the platform strategy it is designed to fit into (likewise). “The Nokia X family is also an affordable introduction to popular Microsoft services, including free cloud storage using OneDrive. With the purchase of any Nokia X family smartphone in select markets, people will get one month of Skype’s Unlimited World Subscription for a limited time, ideal to make international calls to landlines in more than 60 countries and to mobile phones in 8 countries.”
The Nokia release visibly steers away from dwelling too much on handsets and the OS they run. Instead, it’s all about both the cloud and the end-to-end service offering of an entire platform. “Nokia has connected billions of people around the world, and today we demonstrated how our portfolio is designed to connect the next billion people to great experiences,” says Stephen Elop, executive vice president of Nokia’s Devices & Services, in the release. “Our deliberate approach is to offer four tiers of products including our affordable entry-level devices like the new Nokia 220; our entry-level Asha touch phones like the new Nokia Asha 230; our new Nokia X, Nokia X+ and Nokia XL smartphones primarily for growth economies; and our Lumia portfolio, which is where we introduce the greatest innovation and provide full compatibility with the Microsoft experience.”
I shouldn’t need to point out to readers that all this begs so many questions that it might be moonlighting as a script developer for Mastermind. First, since when was Nokia ever supposed to be building its value and market position on a “portfolio” and “connectivity” instead of on handsets and the user-friendly OS they run? Second, why would anyone be in a hurry to connect to the full Microsoft mobile experience when Google and Android already offer far more attractive and pervasive mobile experiences of their own? Third, isn’t the not-so-hidden implication with this that Windows Phone technology is simply too pricey for lower-end devices, which is sort of a hit at your new owner? Fourth, why would buyers of Nokia X handsets then trade up to a completely different OS for the higher-end Lumia devices?
It’s hard to read who comes out of all this a bigger loser, but the money has to be on Nokia – even though Microsoft is ponying up the $7.2 billion bill for acquiring it. As analysts have said, it would have been far better off going for Android years ago and avoiding the entire Microsoft detour at all. Nokia may not be buying into the full Android service platform by not adopting the complete Google licensing package, and instead pursuing an Amazon-like strategy with its own version of Android, but it’s not hard to anticipate hacks, tweaks, and apps designed to deliver exactly that, rather than the Microsoft-based and other offerings that Nokia seems eager to peddle. Meantime, Windows Phone buyers should probably avoid opting for any ebook or other media solutions that lock them in too tightly to the platform, because if it’s not suited to catch the impetus from growth economies, who knows how long it’s going to be around?
As Seeking Alpha declared, “Stephen Elop’s Nokia bet the farm on Windows Phone with no plan B, and lost. ” One product line completely missing from the Nokia announcement is new clothes for the former emperor of mobile phones. But Nokia needs those most of all, because right now it’s looking naked and plucked bare.