Nokia and Normandy: Will Android be good for Microsoft, too?

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Mobile World Congress (MWC) is coming in the next few weeks, and manufacturers are expected to make their product announcements either during the event itself or at media conferences done on the side. Samsung, for one, is expected to launch either its flagship S5 or a mid-range series. So are LG, HTC and practically everyone but Apple. But one of the anticipated announcements would involve Nokia’s invitation to “meet us under the tree.”

Observers say this could be about Nokia’s rumored Normandy, a smartphone supposedly based on Android or an Android fork, which it has been developing under wraps. Normandy has been leaked by Twitter user @evleaks, reportedly a reputable source of information in this industry. Recent leaks would suggest that the Normandy phone is likely to be a low-end device, targeted at an entry-level market. In short, it could either augment or replace Nokia’s Asha line.

Even the “meet us under the tree” invitation is worded quite interestingly. What could it mean? Could it mean Nokia is branching-out into other platforms (Android, perhaps)? Is Nokia “sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g” with another brand or platform maker? Or could it be an Apple tree? There are many references that one can make out. Of course, we will know for sure by February 24th.

For now, we wonder whether it makes sense for Nokia to launch an Android device in the first place, given the company’s commitment to Windows Phone, as well as the ongoing acquisition by Microsoft, which is expected to be finalized anytime this year.

Targeting the low end

While Normandy was initially thought of as a mid-range device, recent leaks suggest it has entry-level specifications, and would therefore be targeted at a mass-market or in emerging markets. Nokia’s Windows Phone sales been weak in the past few years, which has badly affected Windows Phone’s momentum. Still, Windows Phone had primarily been targeted at a mid-range to premium audience. A big chunk of Nokia’s business still involves feature-phones that are still quite popular in emerging markets.

Nokia has tried to attract this market into buying inexpensive touchscreen devices based on the Asha platform, but the existence of cheap Android devices from lesser-known manufacturers (or, worse, knockoff makers) is a difficult challenge to overcome.

Therefore, a well-built device priced at the low end of the smartphone spectrum (perhaps in the $100 to $200 range, unlocked) would be a formidable contender against no-name devices. Nokia could compete here with its excellent build quality. The company could leverage existing partnerships with carriers and an extensive distributor reach, as well.

Likewise, support for Android apps and Google Play would not only mean better applications for users, but also easier access the developer community.

Should Microsoft be worried?

Microsoft has missed out on the rise of smartphones and failed to regain traction since the iPhone first launched and when Android began dominating. However, the company is holding firm to its strategy in being both a software developer and hardware maker, particularly with the Surface.

Windows Phone has been gaining headway in the recent months, and this involves mostly the lower-end range of the market. Chances are, Normandy will replace Asha as Nokia’s low-end platform. If Nokia were to use a platform other than Windows Phone at the low end, it might become a threat to Windows Phone.

Business-wise, Microsoft is not likely to worry, since it does make good business out of licensing deals with Android manufacturers, thereby netting the company even a bigger amount per device from royalty fees from Android devices than even Google, which owns the platform. And once Microsoft finalizes the Nokia acquisition and starts churning out hardware, it would also earn some margin from device sales, regardless of what platform the phones are running on.

However, were Android were to cannibalize its own low-end offerings, would it be worth it at all for Microsoft to even consider selling devices that run on Android or a fork thereof?

Exciting times?

Nokia was once king of the hill in the smartphone business — at least in the heyday of the Symbian platform. Who wouldn’t remember forget the Communicator series, which was once the only option when you wanted to be able to do serious work and serious communication capabilities on your mobile phone? But now, even low-end devices can be serious communicators, as long as they have apps for email, chat and even video-conferencing in the low-end of the price spectrum.

It’s an exciting time for mobile users and manufacturers alike. Nokia was right to jump off the “burning platform” when it decided to focus efforts outside of Symbian. But apparently, Windows Phone was not the only choice of alternative platforms. Android is open and available, and manufacturers left and right are forking it and using it on their devices. Why can’t Nokia do the same?