A Nokia job posting sparked speculation that the recovering smartphone maker may have been readying an Android device, although this was swiftly denied by a spokesman for the company.
According to reports, the company was using LinkedIn to recruit a “principal software engineer, embedded Linux middleware” – with Linux being the platform which underpins Android.
Brighthand noted that the job description said the candidate would be working on “embedded Linux device software and hardware drivers for our exciting new products”.
However, Doug Dawson, Nokia’s media relations head, took to Twitter to clarify: “Our recently posted job is linked to our Here Maps support for other platforms, including iOS and Android. Nothing more.”
Speculation that Nokia is working on a “plan b” should its partnership with Microsoft fail to work out was fuelled by a YLE interview with Risto Siilasmaa, Nokia’s chairman, who earlier this year said that the company has a “contingency plan” if Windows Phone fails to deliver.
While it is too early to say whether the company’s latest Windows Phone 8 devices will be a success during the lucrative Christmas holiday sales period, to date the performance of its Microsoft-powered devices has been lacklustre.
Nokia’s initial Windows Phone devices essentially showed little of the company’s flair, with little to differentiate them from similar devices from vendors including Samsung and HTC.
And with the news that smartphones powered by Windows Phone 7.5 would not be upgradable to Windows Phone 8 – albeit for solid reasons – there was a disincentive for buyers to purchase existing devices.
What is not clear is what Nokia would stand to gain from support for Android. With the company’s latest-generation Windows Phone devices showing some differentiation from products from rivals (for example, integrating Nokia’s PureView imaging technology and offering enhanced mapping capabilities), a shift of platform would again put it at the bottom of the curve.
Should Nokia for some reason feel that competing with Windows Phone is not its best option, it would certainly not find Android an easy ride.
Indeed, with the notable exception of Samsung, established vendors such as Motorola, Sony and HTC have found out how tough the Android market is, with differentiation a real issue when devices are powered by the same, core operating system, with access to the same apps and content portfolio.
With vendors such as Huawei and ZTE using Android as a tool to build their international portfolios, and all number of low-cost rivals joining the battle in China and India, becoming another “me too” Android vendor seems to offer little upside.
Of course, Android does have some advantages in targeting the low-cost smartphone sector, which is why it is generally the platform of choice for this market.
But Nokia already has products targeting this market, meaning a decision to use Android to improve its position in the low-cost device market would see it incurring additional development costs and competing with products similar to its rivals, while cannibalising its existing product lines.
Having worked with Microsoft to drive Windows Phone 7.5 into the low-end, the company is likely to continue to use this platform to target customers lower down the spending charts, aided by the lower bill-of-materials this will enable. Indeed, the recently announced Lumia 510 is an example here, offering a Windows Phone device at a price of US$199 unsubsidised.
While this means it is still offering devices using a legacy platform, the continued availability of Android devices powered by Android 2.x indicates that not all customers demand the latest version of an OS when they buy a smartphone – especially the less tech-savvy.
And with the anticipated release of Windows Phone 7.8, the platform will have a cosmetic refresh that will bring it closer to Windows Phone 8.
Nokia has also taken to referring to the touch-screen devices in its mass-market Asha range as “smartphones”, stating that these have been identified as such by “global market research companies and analysts such as GfK”.
Regardless of definition, these handsets give Nokia another tool with which to compete with low-cost Android devices, while also giving it full control of the software-and-hardware package and providing it with a chance to differentiate.
In the third quarter of 2012, Nokia shifted 6.5 million “Asha full touch smartphones”, compared with 2.9 million Lumia devices.