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Open Letter to BlackBerry and Nokia: Android can be forked, why didn’t you just fork it?

Image source: BlackBerry
Image source: BlackBerry

Android is an open source project. It can be forked and be made the basis of a different operating system. BlackBerry and Nokia probably should have taken this route. Android’s open source nature would have allowed BlackBerry and Nokia to come out with its own distinct operating system, without the burden of having to come out with a strong app ecosystem. Amazon successfully forked Android for its Kindle Fire tablets. In doing so, it had the advantage of a tried and tested operating system and was able to put up its own app store.

BlackBerry and Nokia should have probably gone down this route. BlackBerry pretty much raised the white flag with its recent announcement that it was looking for strategic alternatives.  In one sense, this is nothing new. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins has consistently said that he is open to all options. So the announcement is really nothing new in one sense. In another sense, by putting a public for sale sign on BlackBerry, this indicates that there are no “strategic alternative” options on the table right now. If there were, this kind of thing is usually discussed and negotiated publicly.

What is the likely impetus for the announcement? Many would point at poorer than expected sales. The reality is that the problem is more deep rooted. BlackBerry 10 needs 2 gigabytes of RAM, and efforts to get it to run on less hardware has failed.  This means that BlackBerry won’t be able to offer a nice upgrade path for its legions of Curve owners.

Now, I have been using a BlackBerry handset for a month now, a Z10. BlackBerry has done a nice thing with the new BlackBerry 10 user interface. I think the gesture-based interface is great. BlackBerry did an excellent job with how multitasking is handled, built a great web browser and an excellent keyboard. The BlackBerry Hub, is something some Android manufacturer or app developer should emulate. But I really do not see why all this could not have been built on top of Android instead.

Had BlackBerry done this, it could have had focused on making its versions of Android more secure, and place its own proprietary apps, adding value to its phones, while expanding its services like BBM and security software to the rather large lucrative Android ecosystem.

Nokia went the Windows Phone route. While Microsoft is happy brandishing the fact that it now has taken third place from BlackBerry in the mobile operating system wars, Nokia is footing this bill. Nokia lost US$151 million in the previous quarter despite the gains made by Windows Phone. The reason– the impetus behind the small growth in Windows Phone is driven by low cost devices like the Nokia Lumia 520. While Nokia’s Lumia smartphone shipments went from 5.6 million to 7.4 million from the first to the second quarter of this year, its average selling price per smartphone went down. In Q1 of 2013, Nokia shipped 5.6 million Lumia smartphones with an average selling price of US$250 per phone. In Q2 of the year, Nokia shipped 7.4 million Lumia smartphones with an average selling price of just US$206 per phone. Worse, it is limited to using Qualcomm Krait processors in its handsets, even low cost one, limiting its ability to source lower cost components.

Nokia really cannot do anything about this. Since it has chosen the Windows Phone for its platform, its devices cannot support Full HD displays and quad core processors, so its best devices are essentially mid-range Android devices. To its credit, Nokia has focused on camera technology to try to make its top offerings competitive with Android and the iPhone.

If Nokia was not inclined to just be another Android manufacturer, it could have forked Android instead, building its own features, and placing its own apps on top of it and brought its Symbian and Meego expertise to bear in creating a better version of Android. It could also be building more competitive handsets. Now, it has to sit back and wait to see if Microsoft can come out with an operating system which will make its offering more competitive.

BlackBerry and Nokia could have become major partners for Google, bringing their operating system expertise to enriching the Android operating system. Instead, BlackBerry is likely to leave the hardware business, while Nokia has placed its future in the hands of another company. As for Google’s partners, if Google ever drops Android, Samsung would happily take on the project and pick up where Google left off.

9 Comments

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  1. Gwa…if you are not running Android, you are against them. Blackberry should have released a blackberry handset with a google experience edition on updated hardware. They did not and are paying the consequence they deserve.

  2. Blackberry didnt bet against Android, they have an android VM on every BB10 device which outperforms the android VM on most android devices.

  3. A_Rob, you dare challenge, the Android Advocate? With these silly arguments? Let’s break them down shall we?

    Wow…talk about being excessively blinkered in the pro-Android camp! I’m not saying Android is bad, it’s just not the bandaid/plaster fix that you keep bleating it is for fixing Nokia/BB problems! Sure it does great for handset volumes, but apart from Samsung it’s pretty weak for profit – and that goes for Google, let alone the other Android OEMs.

    —-You don’t have any idea of what Google’s profit is from Android. They don’t break out the profit into mobile as far as I know. If you know otherwise please post the info. Anyway, as I said before small profit is better than no profit. I would rather own a lemonade stand and make a profit of $100 a year than be Nokia and consistently lose hundreds of millions of dollars every quarter. At least the lemonade stand could stand on it’s own year to year and not need to be propped up on it’s deathbed by a stronger partner unlike other businesses.

    Your comments about Nokia’s finances show an incredible lack of knowledge about Nokia’s operations. The handset division might be struggling, but it’s other divisions are doing well enough to maintain cashflow whilst the handset division finishes its turnaround and realignment to a new OS – this was never going to be a quick occurence, and for those who bother to look at the market values see that Nokia’s handset division is becoming more profitable and less of a burden, and revenue from NSN and IP is very healthy, which compensated in the short term for the handset and HERE division weaknesses. Those weaknesses are being eliminated and the divisions more efficient, streamlined, focused and with better inter-department co-operation.

    —-You see this is the problem. I have the transcript (I’m channeling Chris Hansen here, work with me.) so you might as well start telling the truth. Here is one of the latest headlines from The Verge:

    Nokia loses $151 million in Q2 2013

    Here’s a paragraph form that story:
    Nokia’s Q2 2013 earnings are out — and it’s clear that the company’s road to recovery is nowhere near over. The Finnish manufacturer posted an operating loss of €115 million (roughly $151 million) from €5.695 billion ($7.46 billion) in revenue over the quarter, which is a little below expectations. Nokia expected its Devices & Services division, which has traditionally been its largest, to be in the red this quarter, but its small loss of €33 million ($43.25 million) is lower than its prediction.

    Here’s another paragraph form that story:

    All-told, the company’s profitability dramatically improved year-over-year (the company lost €826 million this time last year), and is pretty steady quarter-over-quarter. Anticipated poor results from both the Devices & Services and HERE mapping divisions were offset somewhat by yet another good quarter for the company’s Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) arm — the data networking and telecommunications equipment division made €8 million ($10.5 million) over the quarter.

    Ok, so NSN makes 10 million bucks. Big woof when you still lost over 150 million. Anyway apparently I, an android advocate know more about Nokia’s financials than you. Moving on…

    Nokia has assets that come into play up and down the handset manufacturing to delivery process – assets that Microsoft have happily leveraged into WP OS to improve it, but assets that Google would prevent Nokia from utilising because it would overlap with Google’s own resources and impact on their ad clicks and user-data gathering.

    –What daggone crazy talk is this? No idea what you are going on about mate. Please try again.

    Why is Android the ‘only’ way? Nokia and Microsoft are doing a good job of building a solid 3rd ecosystem, as much as you wish to believe otherwise (lets face it, iOS and Android had to build ecosystems from scratch and weren’t an overnight success so why is WP demanded to be?) When you get down to the base code level of these operating systems, Android is a far less appealing option – it was an OS designed for functionality, not efficiency and so has created another specs race which is really only relevant for Android and not other mobile OSs.

    —-Why is Android the only way? Cuz it’s a winner. Contrary to what you are saying, Android almost was an overnight success. I know it did better than having only 3% of world marketshare after 2-3 years unlike some other OS’s, of not worth mentioning.A solid ecosystem? With only 150k apps? Ok buddy.Code? Who cares about code? I’m a consumer. I just want to play my Angry Birds. Thankfully, developers care more about marketshare than code which is why they are more likely to develop for Android than WP.

    As AndroidAdvocate said – Give us what we want! However, despite what he feels is the way forward, we don’t want a world full of Androids and no other choice, what we want are mobile OS ecosystems that can compete with each other, play to their own strengths and offer us CHOICE, rather than what Google deems to be our correct choice (i.e. them!)

    —-Ahem. On the contrary, most of the world does want a world full of Android…that’s what we are buying apparently.We the consumers don’t care about competition we want a good phone. Contrary to your belief, we choose the best OS…and right now that’s Android. We don’t care about competition and playing strengths. Let the company owners worry about that and their boad of directors or whatever. Just give us a good phone. Just give us Android =]

    Fandroids are turning into the iSheeps they dissed so much – time for you to wake up and smell your hypocrisy!

    —-I won’t argue with you here…you may just be right. But hey don’t blame us…we know a good thing when we see it =]

  4. Wow…talk about being excessively blinkered in the pro-Android camp! I’m not saying Android is bad, it’s just not the bandaid/plaster fix that you keep bleating it is for fixing Nokia/BB problems! Sure it does great for handset volumes, but apart from Samsung it’s pretty weak for profit – and that goes for Google, let alone the other Android OEMs.
    Your comments about Nokia’s finances show an incredible lack of knowledge about Nokia’s operations. The handset division might be struggling, but it’s other divisions are doing well enough to maintain cashflow whilst the handset division finishes its turnaround and realignment to a new OS – this was never going to be a quick occurence, and for those who bother to look at the market values see that Nokia’s handset division is becoming more profitable and less of a burden, and revenue from NSN and IP is very healthy, which compensated in the short term for the handset and HERE division weaknesses. Those weaknesses are being eliminated and the divisions more efficient, streamlined, focused and with better inter-department co-operation. Nokia has assets that come into play up and down the handset manufacturing to delivery process – assets that Microsoft have happily leveraged into WP OS to improve it, but assets that Google would prevent Nokia from utilising because it would overlap with Google’s own resources and impact on their ad clicks and user-data gathering.
    Why is Android the ‘only’ way? Nokia and Microsoft are doing a good job of building a solid 3rd ecosystem, as much as you wish to believe otherwise (lets face it, iOS and Android had to build ecosystems from scratch and weren’t an overnight success so why is WP demanded to be?) When you get down to the base code level of these operating systems, Android is a far less appealing option – it was an OS designed for functionality, not efficiency and so has created another specs race which is really only relevant for Android and not other mobile OSs.
    As AndroidAdvocate said – Give us what we want! However, despite what he feels is the way forward, we don’t want a world full of Androids and no other choice, what we want are mobile OS ecosystems that can compete with each other, play to their own strengths and offer us CHOICE, rather than what Google deems to be our correct choice (i.e. them!)
    Fandroids are turning into the iSheeps they dissed so much – time for you to wake up and smell your hypocrisy!

  5. The other manufacturers LG, HTC, Hauwei(sp?) etc. are all at least making a profit that allows them to survive. Blackberry and Nokia are not. Nokia survives due to their 1 billion dollar a year bribe to keep using WP exclusively. Take that away and in a year or two they would be in Blackberry’s position. Nokia though I think is smarter and would jump ship to Android.

    Anyway, if Blackberry thinks they can go without Android, I say good riddance. There are enough lame duck manufactures out there anyway. Let’s winnow the herd through some selective evolution.

    Palm bet against Android. They lost.
    Kin bet against Android. They (Microsoft + Danger) lost.
    Nokia bet against Android. They are losing.
    Blackberry bet against Android. They have lost for all intents and purposes.

    The proof is in the pudding gentlemen (and gentlewomen).

    Without Android, your hopes are slim. So jump on that bandwagon, change your colors, sell your pride, and do whatever metaphor that means switching teams you can.

    Manufacturers let me deliver a message to you straight from the brainwashed Android masses. This message is from those of who know we are using it and those of us who don’t: If you will switch to Android that’s great. If not that’s great too. We don’t care about you. We don’t care about your profits. We don’t care about the jobs that will or will not be lost because of your prideful decisions to stick to your own toy-os.

    We care about the survival and success of the Android eco-system. We care about the tens and possibly hundreds of dollars we have invested in apps, movies and music to customize and perfect the experience on our smartphones.

    We will succeed with or without you. Your brand, your reputation, your android “skin”, your bloatware, your carrier agreements, your value-adds mean nothing to us. We spit on them. This goes for Android manufacturers and non Android manufacturers alike.

    You are a vehicle, a dumb-pipe, a delivery system for our Android experience. You have become the thing you feared, a commodity, a variable of an equation that can readily be replaced, because we have already solved for x…and the x is Android.

    So I hope you get this and I hope you get it right for your sake and not ours: Get Android or face extinction. If you refuse Android, out of your ashes will arise a more compliant manufacturer that will submit to the people and give us what we want.

    Thanks to Google, finally we the people are calling the shots.

    Give us what we want.

  6. For lower end phones nokia could have used android instead of asha s40 platform. For phones with display less than 480×800 which is supported by windows, andorid was a good bet, and microsoft would have even agreed to it. But nokia may still follow blackberry and htc to death.

  7. There are so many holes in your argument (particularly from the Nokia perspective) I don’t even know where to start! Forking it further wouldn’t solve any problems, and the app argument would be even more of an issue than the current WP app status (which is exaggerated these days).

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