Posts tagged Nokia
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The Nokia X Android-based smartphone has been official for less than a week and already the talk of the industry is that Microsoft will kill the phone as soon as the acquisition of Nokia is final.
“Let me put it this way,” one Microsoft employee said to me at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. “Microsoft is a company built historically on Windows.”
Historically, that is true. But the “new” Microsoft may be a bit of a different kind of company. It truly wants to be a devices and services company. For Microsoft, the Nokia X is all about services and emerging markets. If Nokia can get millions of people using Outlook, Skype and OneDrive with the Nokia X, Microsoft will be more or less content to leave it be. For now.
The Nokia X has been in production for about 18 months. Microsoft has known about it for long enough to firmly suggest to Nokia to not ship the smartphone if Microsoft wanted to. But Microsoft did not kill the Nokia X and let it hit the market. Part of this is because of legal reasons (after all, these are still two separate companies), part of it is because Microsoft realizes that the Nokia X could be good for the Microsoft services brand if the phone sells as well as Nokia’s executives seem to think it will.
When asked if Microsoft would consider killing the Nokia X after launch, several Nokia employees basically scoffed at the notion. The general consensus is that killing the Nokia X would seem callow and vindictive of Microsoft and that it would not serve Redmond’s purposes.
That doesn’t mean that there is a long road map for the Nokia X. The next iterations of the devices are in planning stages. Nokia won’t build top-end devices using Android, but it will likely expand the mid-tier aggressively in short term. If one were to bet, the Nokia X series may go through two or three iterations before Microsoft quietly lets it die.
The X Doesn’t Jive With The New Windows, But It Doesn’t Need To
The “X” in Nokia X stands for crossover. A cross between Nokia hardware and design, the Android Open Source Project and Microsoft’s services.
Microsoft as a company has more or less completely rebuilt itself over the last couple of years. It made some hard decisions (twice killing its existing mobile platform in Windows Mobile CE and Windows 7) and brought the entire Windows ecosystem under one common core. The next goal for Microsoft is to spread Windows 8 through the world, lowering the barrier of entry for manufacturers and developers to build on the platform and deploy hardware and applications.
In the mobile arena, Microsoft wants to start pushing Windows Phone down market. The forthcoming update to both Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 that was announced at the beginning of Mobile World Congress (literally, the first event scheduled in Barcelona) was a statement from Microsoft that it will aggressively push Windows Phone to “growth” markets around the world.
From a technical perspective, what that amounts to is the idea that Windows Phone can now be built on commodity hardware. Part of the reason that Android has eaten the world is that it is built on cheap commodity hardware. It should be noted that Google has already made this move with Android. Older versions of Android (up to 2.3 Gingerbread) could run on inexpensive hardware and the most recent version (Android 4.4 KitKat) was designed to ensure that the most newest features and design of Android can run on lower-end specifications. For Microsoft, it is taken a lot longer to get to the same point as Google has with Android, but it has finally created a system for Windows Phone that will allow it to spread through the world.
When it comes to the Nokia X, the fact that it is built on Android doesn’t mesh into this, “Windows eats the world” strategy. But that doesn’t mean that Microsoft doesn’t want or need the Nokia X. What should be remembered is that Microsoft didn’t just buy the ability to make Lumia devices from Nokia, it bought the entire catalogue. That includes the S series feature phones, the Asha phones and the Lumia Windows Phones. These phones are pushing users to Microsoft experiences like Bing search and Skype.
From Nokia’s perspective, the Nokia X should be viewed in the same way as the S series and Asha and not as an existential threat to Windows Phone. The Nokia X may not jive with Microsoft’s Windows strategy, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit well within Microsoft’s goal to push its services across the world. With that in mind, Microsoft has no intention to kill the Nokia X.
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Nokia’s long-rumored Android smartphone is shipping across the globe next week. Well, with one minor exception: North America.
That’s right. Eager users in the U.S. and Canada will be missing out on Nokia’s budget-friendly smartphone.
Nokia plans to ship the Nokia X everywhere else—from emerging markets such as China, Indonesia, Thailand, Central America, India, and the Middle East to developed and developing nations across Europe. Priced at just €89 ($122 at time of writing) with no subsidy, the Nokia X aims to be a dominant player in the affordable smartphone game.
In emerging markets, Nokia is pitting the Nokia X against the likes of Motorola’s Moto G and devices running Mozilla’s Firefox OS. The competition to slice out market share in countries across the world is getting intense. Smartphone markets in the industrialized world are starting to mature, creating a scramble among rival ecosystems to get customers in populous but less wealthy nations signed onto their services.
Mozilla wants to get people on the Web using the Mozilla browser. Google wants people on its services and cloud like Gmail and the Google Play app store. Microsoft—through Nokia—wants people to use its services like Outlook, OneDrive and Skype.
Nokia To Focus On Lumia In The U.S And Canada
In the U.S., almost everyone is familiar with Microsoft Word and Office products as well as Outlook and Skype. Microsoft doesn’t need Nokia to ship an affordable Android smartphone in the U.S. or Canada to get consumers to use its products.
Hence, the company’s aim in the U.S. is for Nokia to ship mid-to-high end Lumia devices based on its Windows Phone OS in order to battle toe-to-toe with Apple’s iPhone and top Android phones from Samsung and HTC. At this point, Nokia is basically ceding the low-end smartphone economy in the U.S. and Canada to other companies.
This is par for the course for Nokia, which hasn’t ever really introduced its low-end smartphones—such as the Nokia Asha and its Symbian “smart” devices—to U.S. consumers. In many ways, the Android-based Nokia X running Android is Nokia’s replacement for Symbian, just with a better and more efficient operating system and hundreds of thousands of more pertinent apps.
That doesn’t mean U.S. consumers are going to like it. The Moto G has a certain fan base among customers in the U.S. because it is precisely what it says: a cheap but full-featured smartphone available for less than $200 without a contract. The Nokia X could battle with the Moto G and comparable devices in the U.S. and do fairly well.
Top image: Compass by Walt Stoneburner, Flickr
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In may seem silly to say, but in the ongoing tragicomedy that is Nokia’s wedding to Microsoft, Nokia’s Android strategy could make a whole lot of sense. For both Nokia and Microsoft.
Jussi Nevanlinna, the VP of product marketing for mobile phones at Nokia, says that the goal of both Nokia and Microsoft is to get the next billion people onto the cloud. Not just on the Web or using smartphones in general … but on the Internet, using Microsoft’s cloud.
If nothing else, that is what the Nokia X Android smartphone is really about. This could be one of the ways that Microsoft attempts to turn itself into a true “devices and services” company. For Microsoft, the Nokia X is all about the services. For Nokia, the devices and the potential of broad reach with a cheap Android phone is the main appeal.
“Essentially the story is that Microsoft wants to connect the next billion people to the cloud,” Nevanlinna said in an interview with ReadWrite. “What we bring is very wide reach. We have access to these consumers.… We are a volume platform to connect the next billion people to Microsoft’s cloud and services.”
Nokia’s Diverse Portfolio
Despite shedding market share to the likes of Samsung and Chinese white label manufacturers, Nokia is still a valued brand in emerging markets. Nokia has four different layers of data-connected cellphones from the most basic like the new Nokia 220 (that has nominal data and connects to Twitter and Facebook) to the Asha series with the new Nokia 230, up the ladder to the Nokia X, the budget friendly Lumia 520 and the flagship Lumia devices like the Icon, 1020 and 1520. It’s a full-featured product lineup intended to compete across the globe in the smartphone age.
The word on the Nokia X before its official released was that it would replace the Asha series in Nokia’s global portfolio. That will not be the case, as Nokia will slot it in between Asha and lower-end Lumia smartphones on its price scale. Yes, Nokia has an Android smartphone, but it wants to remind you that it is beneath even the lowliest Windows Phone it serves.
Chicken & Egg: Network Effects
The problem for Nokia and its market woes has been Windows Phone. By its very nature, Windows Phone suffers from the chicken-and-egg problem of network effects. Developers don’t want to build apps for Windows Phone because it doesn’t have a critical mass of market share and consumers don’t want to buy Windows Phones because of the lack of breadth in the app catalogue.
Android and Apple’s iOS have both critical mind and market share, and so neither faces this customer inertia that Nokia and Microsoft are so badly stuck on.
To eliminate the network effects on the app development side, Nokia has opened up its Android phone to every Android app market on the planet. Yandex, local Chinese app stores (the most common way users download apps in China), GetJar and the likes give Nokia instant access to all the top Android apps. No porting necessary for most developers, unless they want tighter integration with in-app payments and notifications on the device.
Nevanlinna would not say how long the Nokia X has been in production, but did say that Microsoft has full transparency to Nokia’s product roadmap as part of the acquisition process. So, one way or another, Microsoft is fine with Nokia releasing an Android smartphone. Well, to a certain extent.
When asked about the prospect of a Nokia Android smartphone at a press event in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress on Sunday, Microsoft’s VP of operating systems Joe Belfiore and corporate VP of OEM relationships Nick Parker shared an awkward pause, as if to say, “how exactly are we supposed to answer this question?”
Ultimately, platitudes won out.
“We have a terrific engineering relationship with Nokia. What they do as an independent company is what they do. They will do some things we are excited about and some things that we are not excited about,” said Belfiore.
Business Insider reports that one Microsoft source said that Nokia’s decision to go with Android is, “embarrassing.”
Microsoft likes to think of itself these days as a budding “devices and services” company. For the Nokia X, it is the services that are the most important to Redmond.
The nominal idea for Nokia and Microsoft is to make the Nokia X the “onboarding” process to higher end Windows Phones. Nokia’s user interface for the X mirrors the hubs-and-tiles look of Windows Phone. It has two homescreens, one for apps and another for notifications and activity called “Fast Lane.” It is meant to mimic Windows Phone so that when people theoretically upgrade from the Nokia X, they upgrade to a quality Lumia device.
At this point users will theoretically be hooked onto Nokia and Microsoft’s services like Skype, OneDrive, HERE Maps and Nokia MixRadio. The idea then is to upgrade them to Lumia devices with the full scope of Windows Phones capabilities and hardware.
Will It Work?
Microsoft has given its blessing to the Nokia X. Nokia thinks that it can penetrate emerging markets with the mix of Android commodity hardware and software while tying all the pertinent bits to Microsoft’s cloud.
This may not be a winning proposition in the Microsoft offices going forward. At Mobile World Congress, Microsoft announced that it is making “Windows Phone open for business.” An update to the Windows Phone platform will allow smartphone manufacturers to use basically any hardware they want to build a phone on top of the Windows Phone operating system.
The idea is that a manufacturer could theoretically use the same hardware they use on a low-to-mid range Android phone and instead use Windows Phone on top. The notion is to create diversity in the Windows Phone ecosystem by allowing manufacturers to build cheap Windows Phones that can ship to any portion of the globe.
In the meantime, we have the Nokia X. Its non-Nokia Android equivalent is, more or less, Motorola’s Moto G, an Android phone that has some of the best specs and user features of any device less than $200 without a contract. Before Microsoft’s announced update, Windows Phones 8 could not really use that same low-end hardware that the Moto G and its Android kindred use. With Microsoft’s move to embrace more manufacturers and focus on the lower end of the market, it remains to be seen if the Nokia X is really necessary.
That doesn’t mean that the Nokia X is destined to become vaporware. It is real and it will ship next week. But will we see a Nokia X2? How far are Nokia and Microsoft willing to go down the rabbit hole with Android when Microsoft is putting so much effort into spreading Windows Phone to any interested manufacturers? That remains to be seen.
For now, Microsoft is content in getting users on to its services business via any means possible—even if Android is involved.
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The Nokia X Android smartphone won’t come with access to the Google Play store and its million-plus apps. So how is Nokia going to woo developers to build apps for its shiny new Android device after going whole hog on Windows Phone with Microsoft over the last few years?
Nokia’s short answer: It won’t have to, as it should be relatively straightforward for consumers to load a variety of Android apps on Nokia’s latest handset.
The Nokia X is built on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), version 4.1.2 Jelly Bean. Nokia has made very few alterations to the AOSP for its new smartphone, and so says that most existing Android apps should work on the Nokia X without modification.
Nokia’s Android-app strategy embraces the global nature of the Android ecosystem. While U.S. users are accustomed to getting Android apps through the Google Play store, that’s not the case in many other parts of the world, where consumers use third-party app stores to get Android apps and often “sideload” Android apps directly from app developers.
“Same code base, new consumer base,” Nokia’s head of developer relations Amit Patel said in an interview with ReadWrite, describing the slogan Nokia will pitch to developers. “We are looking for Android developers that already have an app and are after a boatload of new consumers.”
Here’s what consumers and developers need to know about getting apps on the Nokia X.
Three Ways To Download Apps
Patel described three different ways developers can distribute apps for the Nokia X, which are also the same ways consumers can download them:
- The Nokia store: This will feature Nokia’s own selection array of apps. Nokia says developers can use their standard Android Application Package Files (APKs)—which are sort of zipped-up software “suitcases” for transporting app and related software—and basically drag and drop them into the Nokia Store. Nokia has a tool that will scan the app for compatibility, and says that most apps won’t need to change a thing.
- Third-party app stores: As noted above, these are already common app sources in many countries. For instance, Yandex in Russia is one of the biggest providers of Android apps for users there. Third-party app stores will be available as links through the Nokia store, allowing users to download just about any app from anywhere.
- Sideloaded apps: Android allows the ability to directly download an APK from any source, which means that all users will have to do is find the file and install it. (Though it’s worth noting that this can be a risky proposition, depending on where users are finding their apps.)
Three New APIs
Nokia didn’t attempt to get a Google Mobile Services (GMS) license from Google to use the Google Play store or any of Google’s Android core apps. So Nokia had to create its own application programming interfaces (APIs) to handle basic functions on the Nokia X that support consumers and developers.
While most developers will be able to simply drag and drop their apps into the Nokia Store to make them work, some will have to change certain features to tie them into Nokia/Microsoft services instead of Google’s. Here are the three APIs that Nokia is giving developers to work with in the Nokia X:
- Location: Nokia will provide developers with a new location API to replace Google Maps. The Nokia X’s location service API will be the Nokia HERE Maps.
- Notifications: Nokia uses the classic drop-down notification bar in Android, but app notifications have to run through Nokia, not Google. As such, Nokia has its own custom-made notifications API that will also integrate into the phone’s home screen.
- In-app payments: Nokia couldn’t use Google’s robust international payments system to help app developers get paid, so it built its own. The Nokia X will support payments in every country that the phone is distributed to, often using direct-carrier billing with cellular partners across the world.
Patel says that the tools and website for Nokia developers are ready for developers this week. Developers won’t need to rewrite their source code for the Nokia X or repackage their APKs to publish to the Nokia Store, the company says; at worst, they’ll only have to make slight modifications involving these three APIs. Patel claims that the developer time to publish even with the modifications is eight hours or less.
Three Messages To Developers
If Nokia does one thing really well these days, it is sell low-cost smartphones to emerging markets across the globe. The Nokia X is designed precisely to fit into this strategy.
“Overall, what we are saying is that we will provide developers reach and a low time to market,” Patel said.
Nokia’s big sales pitch to developers goes like this:
- Massive reach: The Nokia X will launch the week of March 3 in markets around the world, including China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. With a budget-friendly price, attractive design and access to apps, Nokia thinks its smartphone will be a huge hit. That, in turn, would offer developers that work with Nokia access to big new markets.
- Money: Nokia will make sure that developers can get paid by offering its own payment service in lieu of Google’s. Nokia also believes that the pay-per-download model is not effective (it is what the iOS App Store and Google Play use in the United States) and instead will use a “try-and-buy” approach to let users download the apps and pay for them if they want to keep them. Nokia claims that users are five times likelier to pay for apps with the try-and-buy approach.
- Time to market: Nokia seems eager to make sure that developers have to do very little work to get into the Nokia Store. Most APKs that work with Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2 will work just fine in the Nokia Store, the company insists.
“Developers can use their existing Android developer environment and just use a plugin to edit and modify the existing source code [to implement for the Nokia Store],” Patel said.
Nokia Not Restricting Google Apps
Nokia is taking a very egalitarian approach to app distribution for the Nokia X. As long as an app has a functional APK, it will work on top of just about any version of AOSP. And unlike some other non-standard Android smartphone makers, Nokia won’t go out of its way to block Google apps like Gmail, Maps and so forth.
Its approach is a departure from Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Android Appstore approach. The e-commerce king goes well out of its way to make sure that users of its devices can’t touch Google properties in any way, shape or form (at least without rooting their devices and reinstalling Android functions that Amazon purposely left out).
Amazon doesn’t allow users to visit the Google Play store or use the Chrome browser or the native Gmail app for Android. Nokia hasn’t bothered fencing Google out of its device. Technically, a savvy user or developer could easily load Google’s apps into the Nokia Store or sideload them onto the Nokia X.
That comes with a caveat: The only restriction on app downloads are those that require root access on the device. If an app needs root access, it cannot be downloaded to the Nokia X unless the user actually roots their device. Many of Google’s Android apps do require root access for hardware integration—Maps, for instance, does—and hence will be blocked from the Nokia X.
The key differentiator for Nokia is allowing local markets to use their own third-party Android app stores. For instance, Yandex is Russia is the de facto app store for Android in the country, not Google Play. In this way, Nokia can localize experiences without needing developers to port to the Nokia Store. The scenario is similar in countries like China and India, where local app stores are more prevalent on Android devices than Google Play.
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Nokia makes beautiful Windows Phones—of this, there is no doubt. But whether or not those phones are different enough to make them interesting to the buying public remains an open question.
Take the brand new Nokia Lumia Icon, which the company announced Wednesday. It is a 5-inch smartphone, exclusive to Verizon, which packs all the top-end specs and design quality that people ostensibly look for in a Windows Phone.
The Lumia Icon features a 20-megapixel camera with the usual Zeiss Optics and Auto Focus that Nokia has long used for its high-end devices like the Lumia 1020, as well as optical image stabilization and oversampling technology for deeper, richer images.
The display on the Lumia Icon is comparable to some of the best Android devices with its 1920 x 1080 resolution at 441 pixels per inch. The Lumia Icon is also packed with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal memory. All the specs are good enough to compete with any Android phone released in 2013.
The Lumia Icon ships with the latest version of Windows Phone 8 (Upgrade 3) and the Nokia Lumia Black software, which Nokia uses to soup-up the experience of Windows Phone.
Lumia Black Is Nokia’s Value Proposition
At this point, you know exactly what you are going to get with a Lumia device: You are going to get the Windows Phone operating system (which has no real aesthetic difference between devices) and all of Nokia’s add-ons included in the Lumia Black package.
Lumia Black is not exactly a “skin” (a differentiated interface or launcher in the way that Android manufacturers make) but rather a set of services that Nokia uses to make its Windows Phones a little more interesting.
Lumia Black provides subtle differences to the Windows Phone experience. It has what’s called “Glance Screen,” which shows the user if they have missed calls or messages from the lock screen. It has all of Nokia’s whips, chains, whistles and yo-yos for its Camera app including the Storyteller app that allows you to create digital albums of your photos. Lumia Black also includes the Nokia Beamer, a screen-sharing app that allows Nokia users to send their photos to TVs, other smartphones running iOS and Android and other Lumia devices.
If you take a step back, the Nokia Icon appears to be a fairly full device, with regards to features. It has the high-end specs (which may not look so high-end for Android devices by the end of 2014), the full suite of Lumia apps (including Nokia HERE Maps and Nokia MixRadio), the Nokia camera in all of its glory and the latest software offerings in Windows Phone.
The Verizon Factor
The Lumia Icon is a Verizon device, which means it comes with all the peculiarities (including the pre-installed carrier apps) of a Verizon smartphone.
Verizon doesn’t play the same game as the other carriers when it comes to smartphones from certain manufacturers. Instead of being in at the launch of flagship devices, it will hold out and insist on its own hero devices. Sure, Verizon may still have to play ball with the likes of Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S phones, but other manufacturers are often forced to create Verizon-specific devices. The HTC One didn’t release on Verizon until months after its initial launch. The Nokia Lumia 928 was essentially a Lumia 920, but specific to Verizon and six months after the fact.
Verizon can get away with this strong-arm tactic because it is one of the largest and most powerful carriers in the U.S. It can easily say, “we don’t want your flagship, make us our own,” and most smartphone manufacturers acquiesce.
The problem with the Lumia Icon is that it is essentially an updated version of the excellent Lumia 1020, just with a smaller camera. There is no differentiation in Windows Phone, the Lumia Black features and Nokia apps are basically the same as we have seen in previous Lumia devices.
Nokia has a wide-range of Lumia devices these days. From the budget Lumia 520 to the comically massive Lumia 1520, from the 41 MP camera of the Lumia 1020 to the high-quality tablet of the Lumia 2520, variation hardware designs are not Nokia’s problem. Creating a different experience is. At this point, many consumers know whether they like Windows Phone or not. If they do not, or are lukewarm, nothing new that Nokia launches under Windows Phone is going to be appealing.
If you want a powerful, functional Windows Phone with a good camera on Verizon, the Lumia Icon is for you. It is a perfectly fine device. If you have been waiting for a Windows Phone that offers a new, less monotonous experience from all the other Windows Phones you have used, this is not the phone you are looking for.
Lead image by twicepix on Flickr; right image by Nokia
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