With Microsoft’s takeover of Nokia complete in April, the Windows Phone seems to be going from strength to strength. But now they have announced a new smartphone handset running off the Android platform. Is that one of the Four Horsemen in the distance?
Say that again? Microsoft have announced a new smartphone running on Android.
The phone in question is the Nokia X2, an upgrade to the hugely successful Nokia X, and at £80 it will be one of the more affordable, high powered Androids on the market. It’s keeping the distinct Windows Phone appearance with the tiled background, but at the same time will have access to the Google Play Store and – most importantly – run off the Android operating system.
Apart from the appearance (which, if it has all Android capabilities, users will be able to change), where does Microsoft actually appear? Right there, from the get-go with the preinstalled apps such as OneNote, One Drive and other Microsoft tools, such as Bing Search, Skype and Here Maps.
What's the scheme, Microsoft?
Some have decreed this step as the coming together of digital superpowers for the greater good. What says forward-thinking and innovation more than collaboration between two huge competitors? Has Microsoft finally embraced Android’s little alien?
Afraid not. Microsoft stated that “bringing more people into the Microsoft Cloud through these services the very core of the strategy”. In fact, Jussi Nevanlinna, vice-president of mobile phones product marketing at Microsoft, went as far as to say that the Lumia handset remains their “primary smartphone strategy”, and that this new release is “a stepping stone to it”.
The Nokia X2 is Microsoft piggy backing off Android’s global reach, success and popularity to help them cement Microsoft customers in the future. And in theory, it’s a great move; tempting in those customers with a perfectly priced (£80, $135), affordable handset, available in bright colours, with a big screen. Not to mention the Android capabilities and even a front-facing camera (described by the BBC as “for selfies” which is nothing if not distressing to read on the BBC).
Microsoft’s grand plan to entice customers in with promises of Android, get them hooked on Windows and then push them to the higher end Lumia handset – booting them back to Windows Phone. But if this is going to work, the Nokia X2 better be the best phone in the world…ever! What Microsoft is effectively doing is providing the taste of Android, only for it to be taken away again if they continue onto the Lumia. It’s a hugely risky strategy: Microsoft have got a lot of work to do convincing users that Windows is the best mobile platform to run on, whilst simultaneously admitting that right now it’s not the best, nor the most popular. That’s a hard sell.
But maybe Microsoft has something extraordinary up their sleeve. Maybe they know that by the time the X2 has served its purpose as a stepping stone, the next step will be more impressive. Maybe the next generation Lumia will be something to get properly excited about.
Microsoft needs to tread carefully. They cannot rely on users being enchanted by their preloaded cloud-based services and declare themselves “Microsoft until I die”. The X2 seems like a half step, as though Microsoft is just dipping a toe into the pool of Android opportunity, but in doing so have potentially created a phone that is half-Windows, half-Android; satisfying neither and running the risk of disenchanting users with both Windows and Nokia simultaneously.
Maybe Microsoft is sitting on something huge, maybe they’ve secretly made incredible leaps forward in mobile digital technology and they’re waiting for the perfect time to strike. Maybe they’ve suddenly realised if they’re going to catch up they need to piggy back off Android.
Better than piggy in the middle, I guess.