Nokia Normandy: is Android really coming to Microsoft? (hint: maybe yes!)

By Kip Kniskern | In Mobile | Posted January 17, 2014 10 comments

Rumors have been flying for the past few weeks about the possibility of a new Nokia phone, code named Normandy, which runs Android. Prolific mobile tidbits leaker @evleaks has provided screenshots of not only the device, but of a new Metro-ish UI to go along with it, and Tom Warren at The Verge has provided a set of specs for the new phone, placing it at the low end of the hardware scale, with a 4″ screen, a 1GHz Snapdragon 2 processor, 512MB RAM, 4GB of storage and a 5MP camera.

The rumors haven’t been only about the specs, either. Tech writers from all corners have been making guesses about what it all could mean, from Sam Sabri at WP Central who thinks that Normandy was all a ploy to get Microsoft to buy Nokia’s Asha low-end phones business along with Lumia, to Harish Jonnalgadda at WMPowerUser, who thinks that Nokia may be planning on releasing Normandy under a new brand, getting right back into the phone business it just left, to Mary Jo Foley, who thinks a Windows Phone-ish “cousin”, running Android, just might make some sense:

But an Android OS variant which looks and feels like a Windows Phone OS sibling or cousin — as wild as that sounds at first — actually makes more sense strategy-wise for Microsoft, in my opinion.

But of all the guesses and postulations, Kevin Tofel over at GigaOM may have just come closest to the mark. In a post earlier this week, Tofel suggests that Normandy, rather than a rogue upstart or a negotiating ploy, may indeed be an indication that Nokia’s plan is to replace S40, the proprietary language running the Asha line, with Android:

By replacing S40 with Android as the underlying platform to power the Asha line, Nokia can take advantage of Android’s wide usage and developer support. Nokia can customize the look and feel of Android, similar in approach to Amazon’s Kindle, while building in access to Microsoft’s software and services. Think SkyDrive, Skype and Office.

Once you get past the bad taste in your mouth from the possibility of Microsoft products running Android, this idea actually could make a lot of sense. Microsoft’s focus hasn’t been, and probably should never be in producing low cost handsets, running Not-Windows, for emerging markets. Yet, by acquiring Asha, that’s exactly what they’re going to have to do, and right now Asha runs on the aging S40 OS. That means that Microsoft will either have to spend millions of dollars and countless resources developing a new OS or updating S40, or backport Windows Phone / Windows RT / Windows 9.x to run on very low end hardware, or perhaps even just let the Asha line wither and die.

However there are a lot of advantages to a robust entry level line of phones for emerging markets. As a devices and services company, Microsoft could, and probably should, leverage that potentially lucrative market, and do it in a way that promotes Microsoft services, such as Office, Skype, and SkyDrive. In fact, if the rumors are correct, Normandy appears to be running a forked version of Android, similar to the Kindle Fire, without any bundled Google services (and presumably bundled with Microsoft services, instead).

Another point to consider is that Microsoft itself could have quite a licensing advantage, as the patents it holds on Android, with licensing fees charged to other OEMs, would not have to be paid to itself. In other words, Microsoft could not only run Android on Asha, but it could do it cheaper than any of its competitors (all the while diverting the development costs for OS improvements to its rivals at Google!).

Microsoft is stuck playing in an Android world. Many of its services already have robust Android apps, including Bing, Skype, and SkyDrive. While a Microsoft on Android device or devices sounds like crazy talk, running Asha on Android, building in Microsoft services and a Windows Phone-type look and feel, and being able to do it cheaper than the competition suddenly doesn’t sound quite so bad. What do you think of Nokia Normandy? Was it all a ploy to get Microsoft to buy Asha, a way for Nokia itself to get back in the phones game, or could we soon see Microsoft devices running Android?

Posted January 17th, 2014 at 11:47 am
Category: Mobile
Tags: Android, Asha, Nokia, Normandy
  • efjay

    If Microsoft sells thus device, no matter the justification given, they will signal that they both have no confidence in their own mobile OS and lack the skill to make a truly low cost device.
    After all, they already own a mobile OS and will soon have a mobile hardware division, why blow $7b on that and then have to run a competitors OS?
    They should simply just cancel WP and switch to android fully if they feel they have to sell this device.

    • frankwick

      I see your point, bu keep in mind a few things:
      1. Microsoft is a devices and services company now. No ewhere does hat state they must sell their own operating system.
      2. This phone will come pre-loaded with tons of Microsoft apps. These will generate money. It’s also why they make apps for ios and android today.
      3. Everything is MS world is related. I’m sure thre will be some huge tie in later down the road with Xbox One or home automation.

    • Seika

      Yes. The more important would be they’re perceived to “admit defeat” against Android.
      The internet echo chamber would trumpets the end of days for Windows Phone and say Microsoft is in plan of throwing away Windows Phone’s core to replace it with a forked Android. It might be forked, but still “Android”.

      What’s next. They got demanded to replace Trident with Webkit, or even replace Windows with Linux.

      • jkth

        “What’s next. They got demanded to replace Trident with Webkit, or even replace Windows with Linux.”
        Well why not? I think the point being made here is that Windows isn’t the future and Microsoft need to realise that and break free from it. Ballmer realised that, that’s why he’s going.
        You might not like a Microsoft that isn’t centred on Windows, I don’t think I do either, but that future is arriving like a train whether we like it or not.

    • dingl_

      Exactly, Msft releasing their own Android devices? Yea, that’ll go over well with the ‘bloggers’ and sadly, bloggers run the news cycles these days.. Doing such a thing is falsely raising the white flag over WindowsPhone and declaring it dead, Developers will abandon the entire platform because IF this did happen bloggers wouldn’t drop the story for years
      Nope, MS is best investing billions into their own product and make it run on as low end phone that’s in existence today

      So unless you would like Windows and Windows Phone to go away, an Android device from Microsoft is not something any Windows fan wants to see happen

    • Iain Simpson

      keep in mind Nokia started this before the deal was put in place, it was designed to replace the aging s40 os on asha devices. Microsoft have since purchased Nokia device division which includes the asha line of phones, so what does it matter if it runs s40 or a forked version of android with ms services installed?

    • GameCube

      I’m with you. I’m sure they will keep Asha running for some time. Maybe creating their own apps for S40 like SkyDrive, Bing and Office (at least Office Viewer) at least until it fades away and they drop S40. They could keep Surface, Lumia and Asha brands and use Windows. Surface for top device, Lumia for the normal line and Asha for their budget devices.

  • uberlaff

    I was all for this until I realized what type of hardware it would run on… a 512MB device running a Snapdragon S4! That is more powerful than the Lumia 520!

    That means the hardware is more expensive and the point of this device is to avoid software licensing in order to hit a lower price point. Software licensing doesn’t save costs once MS owns the full widget. More platforms = More dev time and more cost.

    I say it gets ‘Kin’d.

  • Kitty Burgers

    I don’t see the point. Nokia already has the 520, which is a great lower-end handset. Why bother with the Android stuff? Scrap the Aha handsets and push devices like the 520. Once people get used to the WP platform in the lower end market, there will be more incentive for developers to produce apps which are now only available to Android.

  • pfizerdiamonds

    I’m not sure this will see the light of day, but they may be able to spin the press to their advantage. If Normandy runs more efficiently or more secure than Kit Kat, Microsoft can kill in the marketing department. “At Microsoft, we make better Androids, but when you want a real phone buy a WP.”