Android

Nokia will eat pie from its face after forking Android

In order to regain some footing in the smartphone business, Nokia is forking the Android platform. Jack Wallen reacts with his solution for Nokia.

 

Nokia and Android
 

During the late 1990 and early 2000s, there was a major outcry against the constant forking going on with Linux. Users and developers within the community were afraid the forking would not only water down the platform but bring about forks not worthy of the name “Linux” or, even worse, that would result in bad press or failure on all accounts. Thankfully, the Linux community was able to prevent the forking from causing any negative repercussions and they moved on -- quickly and efficiently.

Now, a new fork is about to occur -- this time in the mobile space. Nokia is planning on taking Android, stripping it of the Google Play Store, integrating it with some of the Microsoft services, and slapping it on a piece of their hardware.

To some users, this might sound like an appealing proposition. You get the incredible Nokia cameras, plus seamless integration into services like SkyDrive and Here Maps. If you have a Windows-based Nokia device, you understand the “why” --  the current platform hardly has enough apps and tools to assist the phone. So, instead of waiting around for Microsoft to solve the mobile riddle, they're opting to fork Android into something powerful enough to warrant the hardware.

To me, this is a gigantic mistake. Nokia is re-inventing a wheel that already rolls smoothly -- and if they think slapping together their own app store will work without a hitch, they should think twice. Both Android and Apple have years of experience with their app stores, and both have millions of apps available. I'm honestly not sure how Nokia thinks their own app store will attract the attention of developers quickly enough to justify this move.

There are more issues surrounding this move. The device (rumored to be called the Nokia X) will only have 4 GB of internal storage, 512 MB of RAM, and a 3 MP camera. That’s a low-end device... a low-end device with an unknown app store! Clearly, this is Nokia wanting to make use of the power and flexibility of Android without ruffling the feathers of Microsoft. To do this, they strip everything “Google” from the platform and make a Nokia/Windows-flavor of Android.

This will not fly -- especially on low-end hardware, at a time when carriers are making it easy for nearly anyone to purchase a high-end device. Forking the Android platform, only to strip the presence of Google, will require more from Nokia than they are probably willing to put into a low-end device. In fact, I would imagine the resources necessary to successfully pull off such a fork would be challenging, even for a high-end piece of hardware. To do this, Nokia will have to ensure the device is launched with a well-populated app store -- well beyond what was offered in the initial release of the Windows phone.

Of course, the thing about forking Android is that one can legally fork only one portion of the platform. Google creates Android in two pieces:

  • Android Open Source Project (AOSP): This includes the bare bones of the Android operating system
  • Google Mobile Services (GMS): This is, effectively, the Google Play Store (and its APIs) -- and it is not open source

Even if Nokia wanted to do a full fork, they couldn’t. So, what they get is the foundation of Android, and they have to roll in their own APIs and app store... all for a low-end smartphone. That, my friends, is not smart business. Now, if Nokia has bigger plans in the works, this could be a different story. But if they are simply trying to salvage their smartphone business (because the Windows Phone platform has essentially failed), this is not the way to do it.

What Nokia should do is drop their relationship with Microsoft and release a high-end, Android-based smartphone with that stellar Nokia camera. The combination of Android and the Nokia mobile camera would be tremendous. Not only would they attract Android users, they’d attract photographers and other multi-media junkies. It could wind up a niche nobody knew existed -- that is, high-end smart cameras.

I understand the need to keep deep pockets happy, but Nokia is going nowhere with their Microsoft partnership. If Nokia really wants to succeed in the smartphone market, they need to forget the nonsense of forking Android and make a choice: Microsoft or Android. One or the other. Nokia is attempting to have its cake and eat it too, but they'll only wind up with pie in the face. 

What do you think Nokia should do? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

8 comments
Hazydave
Hazydave

Nokia is forking Android, sure. But not for "power", not for great cameras, not even to compete with Windows Phone, at least in theory. This will be a low end Asha phone. Nokia already writes the whole NOKIA 40 OS for today's Asha line, a series of sub-SymbianOS smartphone-as-featurephone devices weak enough that Microsoft didn't require Nokia to drop these, as they did Linux and SymbianOS phones, during Elop's Windows Phone deal. This is going to be for $100 phones, while Nokia cheapest Windows phone is just under $200. And that cheap series, Lumia 500, have been sold at 5% margins. Asha phones were making 12% or more at half the retail.


Not sure Microsoft cares, but Nokia does. After the Microsoft deal devastated Nokia's smartphone business, well,  at least they still owned the low end, the dumb phone market. Like 70% of the African market. Big sales in Asia. And while they might hold those markets, they are not moving many users to a Western style smartphone any time soon. They might, on  the other hand, keep the Asha series going in those lower spending countries. But like SymbianOS, NOKIA40 requires lots of resources to scale, won't scale far, and doesn't look anything like Windows Phone. Their Android fork kinda does, and there's far less work to do with it.


Honestly, don't forget the old Nokia. If Microsoft hadn't snuck Elop in there to push Windows and choke Nokia's value until it had to be sold. To Microsoft. Cheap. Prior to that, Nokia had a fading SymbianOS platform... but not fading THAT fast. And Linux. With tons of experienced Linux programmers. In a company highly regarded for their hardware. Android was the obvious right move for them. Had they jumped, say, in 2010, they could have sold Android alongside SymbianOS until the latter actually died. No need to kill it oughtright. But they went the wrong way.


This is primarily a bad idea for Microsoft. Buyers of Nokia's Android won't have Google, but they will have access to app stores, side loaded apps, traditional Android launchers, etc. Microsoft clearly thinks that UI is all that matters, so upgraders would move from there to Windows Phone. Same thinking that has Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone, and X box all looking the same but not necessarily running common apps. I think it's likely buyers would see these as cheap Androids, and they would often gateway to Android, not WP.

bencowell
bencowell

Great idea, chance of it reaching reality: 0! I have a Lumina 925 (nice but flawed), my last 6 phones were Nokia and was a Psion user for 15 years. My next will be a Ubuntu. like my next PC's OS. What a waste 'Alas poor Bill! sic I knew him well'.

adornoe
adornoe

Nokia is no longer in the driver's seat when it comes to Nokia smartphones. You should know better, Mr Wallen.


Then, your piece sounds like it came from a fAndroid, trying to keep MS and Nokia away from your precious Android "heaven".


MS/Nokia could easily be using Android to win market share from the Android ecosystem, and with their smartphones, it's quite likely that, those people will discover WP, and will stick with just WP as their preferred smartphone OS going into the distant future. It's a smart strategy: let people experience both OSes, and may the better OS win, and as far as MS is concerned, the better OS is WP. 


It's not really about forking Android; it's about pulling Android users away with a better overall experience, where the number of apps for an ecosystem is irrelevant.

Pronounce
Pronounce

Jack, I understand your reasoning, but if Amazon is justified in doing it then so is Nokia. Plus you have to wonder with embedded everything and IoT on the horizon. That this might be an avalanche that is unavoidable.


So again I'll suggest to the IT community that the core, the HAL, and the UI should be separate products and maintained as such.


My fantasy world is one where Windows XP runs on 2015 -> present hardware with bullet proof security and lightning fast operation.

Andrew Houghton
Andrew Houghton

Jack, your article justifies Nokia's actions rather than the position you take against Nokia's actions!! You said in the article:


Of course, the thing about forking Android is that one can legally fork only one portion of the platform. Google creates Android in two pieces:

  • Android Open Source Project (AOSP): This includes the bare bones of the Android operating system
  • Google Mobile Services (GMS): This is, effectively, the Google Play Store (and its APIs) -- and it is not open source


It sounds like, to me, that what Nokia has done is to use AOSP in their phones and replace GMS with other solutions, since as you pointed out GMS is not open source, e.g, *proprietary*. Android phone manufactures probably license GMS from Google for their phones. I assume that Nokia decided, for business reasons, that replacing GMS was more in line with their business goals rather than licensing GMS from Google. I don't see how you can claim: "Nokia is re-inventing a wheel..." when it sounds like they are using the wheel, e.g., AOSP, and replacing a *proprietary* GMS along with adding enhancements specific to their phones. I also think your argument about "not using the wheel" is undercut when Android phone manufacturers replace the stock Android UI with the own, e.g., Touch Sense, etc.

Beerholder
Beerholder

Microsoft bought Nokia. Beatles are no longer together.

johnbuc95
johnbuc95

@Beerholder  Which of course means that whatever strategy Nokia decides to follow it will be fully subscribed to by Microsoft.

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