An odd story appeared on The Verge today, and has been slavishly covered by ALL MEDIA. In the story The Verge claims that multiple Nokia sources have confirmed that the Finnish phone giant is working on an Android phone. But don't expect to buy a new Nokia Google smartphone any time soon: here's why. (See all Windows Phones reviews.)
UPDATE: does anyone know of a good edible hat maker? Nokia X price, UK availability, specifications.
Nokia's Android phone: why it could be true
First up there's the 'multiple sources'. The Verge may be one of those new-fangled blog things, staffed by so-geeky-they-are-hip beardy types who work on bean bags and put stickers on their VC-funded Macbooks, but it does have strong news values. Someone credible has told them this stuff, secretly but on the record.
And the detail of the story is more nuanced than the headline. It is therefore more interesting and more believable. The story says that Nokia is working on creating its own operating system based on Android, in much the same way as does Amazon with the Kindle Fire range of tablets. The source code of Andoid is open source, to an extent. And it is a good place to start if you want to create an inexpensive and simple platform on which to launch inexpensive and simple phones.
And we know that Nokia is terrifically interested in the sub-£99 budget smartphone market. It has a brain and a pulse, after all, and that is where any growth in the Western world's smartphone market is going to come. Recently we've seen the launch of the first Asha phone in the UK. Asha is a Nokia platform that bridges the gap between feature- and smartphone. It allows Nokia to sell - at £69 - the cheapest phone in the store that offers internet, social media, apps, media and email. And that means that Nokia now has in UK stores phones ranging from £69 to £699, in screen sizes from 3in to 6in.
But the Asha 503 is so basic it is unlikely to be hugely popular in the UK (especially when it is only a few pounds less than the Lumia 520). So it would make sense for Nokia to try to create a platform that is less basic but as cheap. And don't forget that much of Nokia's market share is outside of the first world, and the Android code is a good place to start if you want to create a more sophisticated than Asha, but as cheap as Asha, platform.
However, to describe the results of 'Project Normandy' as a Nokia Android phone would be disengenous. You could call it a 'Nokia Linux phone' and be as close to the truth.
Nokia has been sniffing around a lower-end platform for a while now. And it may well be the case that it doesn't want to sell Windows Phones any lower than the £150 price the Lumia 520 currently fetches. (See also: Nokia Asha 503 review.)
Nokia's Android phone: why you won't be able to buy a Nokia Android
So it is entirely feasible, likely even, that Nokia is working on a new, cheaper platform to supplement its premium range of Windows Phones. But don't expect to see Android Nokias challenging the Lumia range at similar price points.
For one thing, it would be truly dumb. And Nokia doesn't need to make dumb decisions right now. (It's also worth pointing out that none of our Nokia contacts would confirm the story on or off the record.)
In the UK and other key Western smartphone markets Nokia is currently running at around 10 percent market share right now. That means that Windows Phone 8 is a distant fourth in the smartphone platform market share ratings. But all phone makers other than Apple and Samsung would love to be able to claim that slice of the pie. Nokia's doing okay amd things are getting better all the time.
The reason for this relative success? Nokia phones are different. The Lumias look different to both the iPhones and the myriad Android alternatives. They are big and bright and colourful. That's not what everyone wants, but some people like to be different. And the fact that Nokia is now the only real Windows Phone maker is probably helping. In the customer's mindset Nokia and Windows Phone are one and the same thing. Line up a range of current smartphones and ask the man on the street to pick out the Nokia. They will be able to do so.
And it's a good thing. Have you tried a Lumia recently? They work. They work well. It's not my favourite platform but I can see why customers choose it when they see it. The interface is pretty, intuitive and - yes - familiar. The apps and media situation is still a problem for Windows Phone, but it is less of a problem all the time. There are now around 190,000 WP8 apps. More important, you can get an Instagram app, as well as Vine. There are still some important misses, but the customer experience doesn't suffer overmuch.
Plus Nokia's own apps and media stores are great, so the Lumia experience is good.
There's a lot of work to be done, but Nokia is doing okay precisely because it is different to all the Android makers. And it is not about to spoil that by cannabilising its own success.
And then there is the Microsoft question. Microsoft doesn't yet own Nokia, but it will do in a few months. So right now Nokia isn't - indeed can't - take orders from Microsoft, but it seems unlikely that it would seek to annoy its future owner by setting itself up in competition with itself *and* its future owner/partner.
Nokia's Android phone: what's actually happening
So, expect to see a new platform in the budget space currently occupied by Asha. And expect it to be in some way based on the Android code. Or, expect nothing at all. Nokia is an innovation company, and it has people working on different things all the time. Few of them make it to the big time.
But whatever you do don't head out to the high street looking for a Nokia Android phone. If that happens I'll eat my hat: and I don't wear a hat. See also: The 6 best budget smartphones.