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Google apps on the Nokia X: Good for Nokia and Microsoft?

Nokia X running Google Now

One of the big surprises at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in the previous week was Nokia’s official launch of its X series. The Nokia X, X+ and XL run a forked version of Android, which comes with the Android Open Source Project at the core, plus a Microsoft and Nokia services layer. This results in a user experience and ecosystem markedly different from the usual Android device.

Meant as a midrange smartphone, the Nokia X is said to be a gateway to higher-end Microsoft Windows Phone devices — the tiled Metro user interface and services, after all, are all from Microsoft. You would not find the official Gmail, Google Maps, Google Play Store or other parts of the Google Mobile Services (GMS) on the X. However, at the XDA Developers forum, a Spanish developer who goes by the handle Kashamalaga has recently found a way to install Google apps and services on the Nokia X. Surprisingly, Nokia was actually reportedly pleased about this development.

@KashaMalaga This is awesome! Very excited to see progress is being made – we actually really like @xdadevelopers— Nokia Developer Team (@nokiadeveloper) February 28, 2014

Update: The tweet seems to have been taken down, for some reason. Has Nokia perhaps changed its mind?

Nokia  does not offer any official reason why it is “excited” with this progress. However, from both a developer and business perspective, this actually has advantages. Here are some possible reasons why:

Nokia X has piqued developer interest. With its Android fork, Nokia is trying to attract app developers who are focused on building for the two top platforms today: iOS and Android. Nokia X actually requires developers to port their apps into the platform and include these into Nokia’s own app marketplace, especially if apps will require a different set of APIs (as opposed to Google’s, for example).

The ability of Nokia X to run Google services means that the device and its AOSP underpinnings is no different from other Android devices, and it should be easy enough to build apps for the platform, as well.

Nokia X is likely to be popular among the custom ROM community. Android users would usually build a cult following around a device, even if it’s not the most popular or most powerful around. If the Nokia X were found to be able to be customizable enough to replace the Microsoft services with GApps, then the community will find a way to turn the Nokia X into a full-fledged Android device. When Nokia was considering Android before its Windows Phone switch, this already generated some interest, especially among those who are fond of Nokia’s hardware.

All the buzz is good for Nokia — and Microsoft, too. Considering there are hundreds of different Android phone models out there, not all of these get enough interest to warrant an active community of developers and enthusiasts. With the Nokia X already getting this much attention even before it is officially out in the market, it’s guaranteed to be a popular model for custom ROMs and modding. And perhaps it’s an implicit wink to users who want Nokia’s hardware, but don’t necessarily want Microsoft services on their device. If it can be rooted and flashed with GApps, then why not?

It’s a win-win situation for Microsoft, Nokia and mobile users, and Nokia is clearly at an advantage here.