Nokia is a name that is synonymous with great build quality and hardware, awesome mobile cameras, and now Windows Phone. Nokia penned a deal with Microsoft in 2011, pushing its efforts to improve Symbian as a leading smartphone OS and the MeeGo project with Intel to the back burner.
As we've learned, however, Nokia's decision to go all-in on Windows Phone hasn't exactly paid off. In fact, after getting a large sum of money from Microsoft at the beginning of the deal, the Finnish manufacturer owes Microsoft more than it can realistically earn from the remainder of the commitment, AllThingsD reported in January.
Despite perpetually releasing several versions of virtually the same phone, bringing forth compelling hardware to the Windows Phone platform, signing exclusive deals with AT&T (surprising, provided its former stance with U.S. wireless providers), and putting the majority of its eggs in one basket, Nokia cannot seem to gain any real traction. Neither can Windows Phone, for that matter.
After two and a half years, Windows Phone, accounting for 3.2 percent of the global smartphone market share, finally surpassed BlackBerry which currently holds only 2.9 percent. Compared to the two major platforms, Android and iOS with 75 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively, Microsoft and its Windows Phone partners have little to show for their countless efforts.
And Nokia shareholders and investors are up in arms over CEO Stephen Elop's performance. One even pleaded for Elop to “switch to another road,” citing the “road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
While Elop may be root of Nokia's current woes, it's hard to blame one man for the dud Windows Phone has been thus far. HTC, Samsung, Dell, LG, ZTE, and Huawei – among a few others – have also failed to find a foothold with Windows Phone. As promising and refreshing as the operating system is, it has still yet to truly take off – the causes for which reach far and wide. But that's worthy of an editorial to itself.
The question Nokia will face once the agreement with Microsoft comes to a close is a tough one. Should it go with what hordes of fans have wanted all along? Should it pick from the growing list of mobile startups with their own strains of Linux-based operating systems? Or should it lay low for a while, coast on its Asha phones, and get its ducks in a row for a global re-launch down the road?
Truthfully, if Nokia lasts through the entirety of this Microsoft deal (without being bought, that is), it can't afford another gamble like Windows Phone. It needs something stable, something proven.
As much as my colleague believes the answer lies in Windows Phone opening its doors to Google and that a Nokia-made Android phone will be yawn-worthy, the future of Windows Phone – at this point, anyway – is uncertain. BlackBerry, Sailfish OS, Ubuntu Phone OS and every other up-and-coming mobile platform competing for the spot as the third ecosystem all are feasting on the scraps left by Google and Apple, and there's simply not enough to go around.
I'm not saying Windows Phone won't survive or that Nokia should jump ship altogether. Not even close. But once it's free to explore options, Nokia needs to test the waters.
It's no coincidence thousands (likely a lot more) have voiced their collective opinion that Nokia should make an Android-powered flagship. For many, it would be a dream phone. I remember back when the Nokia N9 was announced; I wanted to buy one solely for the fact it would (theoretically) run Android. Although the mod came way too late to matter, someone finally got a version of Ice Cream Sandwich up and running on the N9, and it was glorious … for anyone who coughed up the money for the MeeGo-powered, ill-equipped N9 with no future.
The fact of the matter is, Nokia wouldn't necessarily have to build a custom phone. It wouldn't have to go all-in on Android, nor would it have to give up its efforts on Windows Phone. It could build a Windows Phone and simply provide the option to flash a modified version of Android to it. Theoretically, Windows Phone and Android minimum hardware requirements overlap, it's just a matter of tweaking AOSP with the proper drivers to run on the compatible hardware. For example, internally, the ATIV S isn't all that different from the Galaxy S III.
Even if the process voided the warranty, I doubt very many would hesitate to try pure Android running on Nokia's second-to-none hardware. It's not rocket science, and it would show Nokia's dedication to listening to its loyal fans, the few who stand between Nokia and an even more rocky future.
It's impossible to definitively say Android will save Nokia from … anything. And only offering Android as an aftermarket option isn't ideal. But Windows Phone certainly isn't performing as well as Nokia or Microsoft would have hoped at this point, and something of this nature would allow Nokia to test the waters without blowing too much cash.
What do you say, Nokia? Show a little love for Android, will ya'?