Farewell Nokia X? Not quite, but the signs are clear as Microsoft bets on Universal Apps

I could never make sense of Nokia X, the Android-with-Microsoft-services device which Nokia announced less than a year ago at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona:

If Nokia X is a worse Android than Android, and a worse Windows Phone than Windows Phone, what is the point of it and why will anyone buy?

Nokia X is Android without Google’s Play Store; if Amazon struggles to persuade developers to port apps to Kindle Fire (another non-Google Android) then the task for Nokia, lacking Amazon’s ecosystem, is even harder. Now, following Microsoft’s acquisition, it makes even less sense: how can Microsoft simultaneously evangelise both Windows Phone and an Android fork with its own incompatible platform and store?

Nokia X was meant to be a smartphone at feature phone prices, or something like that, but since Windows phone runs well on low-end hardware, that argument does not stand up either.

Now Nokia X is all but dead. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella:

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Second, we are working to integrate the Nokia Devices and Services teams into Microsoft. We will realize the synergies to which we committed when we announced the acquisition last September. The first-party phone portfolio will align to Microsoft’s strategic direction. To win in the higher price tiers, we will focus on breakthrough innovation that expresses and enlivens Microsoft’s digital work and digital life experiences. In addition, we plan to shift select Nokia X product designs to become Lumia products running Windows. This builds on our success in the affordable smartphone space and aligns with our focus on Windows Universal Apps.

and former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, now in charge of Microsoft devices:

In addition to the portfolio already planned, we plan to deliver additional lower-cost Lumia devices by shifting select future Nokia X designs and products to Windows Phone devices. We expect to make this shift immediately while continuing to sell and support existing Nokia X products.

Nadella has also announced a huge round of job cuts, mainly of former Nokia employees, around 12,500 which is roughly 50% of those who came over. Nokia’s mobile phone business is no all Windows Phone (Lumia) and Nokia X. In addition, it sells really low-end phones, the kind you can pick up for £10 at a supermarket, and the Asha range which are budget smartphones. Does Microsoft have any interest in Asha? Elop does not even mention it.

It seems then that Microsoft is focusing on what it considers strategic: Windows Phone at every price point, and Universal Apps which let developers create apps for both Windows Phone and full Windows (8 and higher) from a single code base.

Microsoft does also intend to support Android and iOS with apps, but has no need to make its own Android phones in order to do so.

My view is that Nokia did an good job with Windows Phone within the constraints of a difficult market; not perfect (the early Lumia 800 devices were buggy, for example), but better by far than Microsoft managed with any other OEM partner. I currently use a Lumia 1020 which I regard as something of a classic, with its excellent camera and general high quality.

It seems to me reassuring (from a Windows Phone perspective) that Microsoft is keeping Windows Phone engineering in Finland:

Our phone engineering efforts are expected to be concentrated in Salo, Finland (for future, high-end Lumia products) and Tampere, Finland (for more affordable devices). We plan to develop the supporting technologies in both locations.

says Elop, who also notes that Surface and Xbox teams will be little touched by today’s announcements.

Incidentally, I wrote recently about Universal Apps here (free registration required) and expressed the view that Microsoft cannot afford yet another abrupt shift in its developer platform; the continuing support for Universal Apps in the Nadella era makes that less likely.

Speculating a little, it also would not surprise me if Universal Apps were extended via Xamarin support to include Android and iOS – now that is really a universal app.

Will Microsoft add some kind of Android support to Windows Phone itself? This is rumoured, though it could be counter-productive in terms of winning over developers: why bother to create a Windows Phone app if your Android app will kind-of run?

Further clarification of Microsoft’s strategy is promised in the public earnings call on July 22nd.

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