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.
- Android's fragmentation problem just got a whole lot weirder - and bigger (ZDNet)
- Nokia's Android phone: X marks the forked spot? (ZDNet)
- Nokia's Android X range: Will this be madness or genius for Microsoft? (ZDNet)
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.