Jaime and Tony are in Barcelona at this year’s MWC and, as you might expect, they’re seeing some very interesting things. Three of the most interesting devices that I’ve seen come from Nokia — and they’re all running Android. Sort of.
As their names imply, the Nokia X, X+, XL are all Nokia phones. They’re made by Nokia. They’re sold by Nokia. They even have the word “Nokia” stamped across the back. No one will argue with you that they’re really and truly “Nokia” phones.
What makes them interesting is the operating system they’re running: Android — but not really. Confused yet? Good! If you ask me, that’s exactly what Nokia is trying to do.
Android, but not Android
I’m a fan of tablets. My 2013 Nexus 7 is my go-to device once I get home from a hard day at the office. My wife relaxes with her original Nexus 7. They both run Android.
Some of my friends are fans of eBook readers more than they are of “real” tablets. Why? They read a lot of eBooks, and the price was right. Both the NOOK and the Kindle run Android — but they’re not Android tablets… not really.
Both devices are built upon Android. Each has its own user interface, neither comes with Google apps built-in, and neither include the Google Play Store. Anything you want to put on your device has to be “blessed” and put into it’s own special app store, which is specific to the device. Settings aren’t the same and the user experience is radically different between the two, and even further from the core version of Android. In fact, on the surface you’d have no idea that either one was running Android.
Let’s look at it from another perspective. When you walk up to an ATM there’s a good chance that it’s running Windows XP — but you can’t run Word or Sim City on it. All you can do is muddle around through a very limited UI, and even then, your abilities are very limited. (On the other hand, the ATM spits out cash, so at least it’s got that going for it.)
It’s the same thing with the Nokia X family.
If Microsoft made Android…
Android is an interesting beast. It’s Google’s mobile operating system, but it’s not. You see, Android “belongs” to everyone. Well, that’s one way to look at “open”. Google encourages people to contribute to it, and it encourages companies to adopt it for use in their products. So far the plan has been working great. Sure, LG, Samsung, HTC, and others put their own “flavor” on top of Android, but for the most part, it’s still Android.
Google is happy because the OEMs license the Google “ecosystem”, including the Play Store, Gmail, and other apps and services. This allows Google to still be very much involved with Android, even on devices made by third parties, and still provides an avenue though which Google can make money.
If Microsoft had built Android, rather than Google, it would look very different. It would probably be tile-based. The Play Store would be gone, replaced by one of its own making, cloud-based storage would be through One Drive, Hangouts would be replaced with Skype, and so forth.
Ironically, that’s exactly what the Nokia X family has done.
Anyone who picks up one of the three Nokia X phones probably won’t be able to tell they’re using Android. Additionally, they won’t be able to use any of the apps, books, movies, or television shows they’d previously purchased through the Play Store. Similarly, they won’t be able to use any of the apps or content they acquire on the Nokia device if they switch to either Windows Phone or a real Android.
The user interface looks nothing at all like Android, but it does resemble Windows Phone. This means moving to one of these phones from either platform — or moving from the Nokia X to a “real” Android or Windows Phone — will lead to confusion.
It’s not Windows Phone. It’s not Android. So what is it? Is it too much to call the Nokia X an “abomination”?