Man, is Google going to be miffed.
Nokia plans to announce an Android-based smartphone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in two weeks, according to unnamed sources in a Wall Street Journal report.
Why would Google care? Because the phone won't support the Google Play app store and the apps in it that generate a percentage of profits for Google. Instead, the Nokia device will have Nokia's Here maps installed along with Mix Radio and a Nokia app store.
Google hasn't commented publicly on the prospect of a Nokia phone running on an Android core, either today or last year when the rumor first surfaced. Nokia also refused to comment when contacted today.
Android phones in this category are a growing problem for Google, according to some analysts.
Research firm ABI two weeks ago wrote a report asking, "Is Google losing control of the Android ecosystem?" It noted that Android smartphones running a forked version of Android made up 25% of the 221.5 million Android smartphones shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013. That was an increase from 22% in the previous quarter.
Phones by Xiaomi, Coolpad, Giomee and others in the Android Open Source Project use forked Android and hurt Google's ability to monetize the Android ecostem, according to ABI. With a Nokia phone running an Android core but not supporting Google Play, Nokia would be joining the forked list. (Amazon also sells Kindle tablets running on a modified version of Android.)
Microsoft, which is buying Nokia's handset business for $7.4 billion and supports the Windows Phone operating system, likely sees an Android smartphone as an inevitable step into emerging markets, where low-cost smartphones are needed to attract first-time buyers, some analysts believe. That leaves the Windows Phone OS available for higher-priced Nokia-based Lumia phones, which offer greater functionality.
"Whatever Nokia is doing, you can bet it will not lead back to Google when it comes to the Google ecosystem," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar WorldPanel. "It's yet another vendor using Android, but not helping Google monetize Android or drive ecosystem stickiness. So, it's no different than Amazon or Xiaomi."
An Android variant on Nokia devices gives Nokia a lower priced smartphone to get first-time users, Milanesi added. "Nokia knows very well that getting first-time buyers gets them loyal users."
Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said an Android-based Nokia smartphone is not surprising, but he questioned whether Google would be unhappy with the development.
In recent weeks, Google was reportedly annoyed with Samsung's announcement that new Pro series tablets would run Samsung's Magazine UX interface. Google was concerned because it wants Samsung devices to remain closer to true-blue Android.
In the past two years, Google has been increasingly criticized for allowing too much Android fragmentation across the many Android vendors.
Unlike the planned Nokia phone, Samsung is certified with the Open Handset Alliance, along with ZTE, Lenovo and Alcatel Lucent, and all give users of their devices access to the Google Play store and its apps. If Google was upset over Samsung's Magazine UX, it might be expected to be even more concerned with forked Android devices.
Or maybe not. "I don't see why Google would be unhappy about Nokia making an Android phone," Gold said. "It's a vindication of their market strategy -- play from low end to high end and everywhere in between."
The Android phone from Nokia was in the works before Microsoft moved to buy Nokia last year, which raises a big question, Gold said. "It will be interesting to see if Microsoft, after the acquisition, kills the Android devices," he said.
Most analysts think Microsoft won't kill a Nokia Android phone, but stranger things have happened in the wildly competitive smartphone world.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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