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Why the Nokia X can be big in China

Nokia X is reportedly selling like hotcakes in China. What could be making the smartphone a desirable Android-based device, even with its limitations?

Nokia X green

Android is big in China. According to Baidu, the country has about 270 million active daily Android users, mostly counting users who run variants of Android that support local app ecosystems and marketplaces. This ecosystem is just about to get a bit bigger, as online retailer JD.com reportedly sold out 1 million reservations of the Nokia X in the country in just four minutes.

I was able to do a review of the Nokia X, and my personal experience is that the device is fairly well-built and capable for its price, but it’s not exactly a stunner in terms of user experience. For one, there is the lack of native support for Google services, given its being a fork of Android geared toward offering Microsoft and Nokia services. However, I can see the potential, especially given its price, and also given the ease by which a user can root the device and install Google Services after-market.

It’s all about the ecosystem

Nokia is actually not planning to launch the X series in the US or other developed markets. Rather, the device is targeted at emerging economies, as well as markets where low-end Android device penetration is highest. Think of countries where users mostly have feature phones. This is the main audience of Nokia X. And as with China, the clear advantage here is the fact that Android users do not have access to Google Play content, anyway. This means third-party ecosystems have more or less a free rein in winning over the hearts (and wallets) of Android users.

Here’s where Nokia X can potentially shine. In the US and other major markets, both users and developers are dependent on Google Play for content distribution. Lack of support would usually be an issue. Even if side-loading were possible, services like Google Maps, Gmail and other Google apps are often the center of attention in Android devices, and the lack thereof would be crippling for any user. This is especially true in markets where the availability of credit cards and other online payment mechanisms is often taken for granted.

But if the lack of Google services is not a concern in the first place, then there should be no problem at all.

Has Nokia hit the sweet spot in China?

Think Xiaomi and its MIUI platform, for instance. Xiaomi pushes its own ecosystem as part of its device strategy (affordable, but very desirable devices). One other thing it has in common with Nokia: users can easily do after-market installation of Google services.

It also helps that Nokia X is cheaper in China than other markets, priced at RMB 599, which is equivalent to about $97 (compared with the announced price of $122).

It is still not yet clear at this point what Nokia’s strategy for its X platform will be in the future, especially once Microsoft completes its acquisition of Nokia within the second quarter of 2014. But it’s clear that Nokia X has generated enough buzz, at least in some regions, that it may achieve cult status and gain enough clout among developers, retailers and users.

It China, it helps that users are not so worried about the lack of Google Play access, so this means Nokia X can be as competitive as just about any other Android-based device out there, and even more desirable than devices from lesser-known brands sold at almost the same price.