Initially, we dismissed the “Nokia’s going to Android!” rumors as hearsay. After all, why would a company that just recently shook hands with Microsoft for a $7.4 billion forfeit Windows Phone for Google’s open source operating system?
Apparently, there were some credence to those rumors after all. The Wall Street Journal reports that Nokia has plans to release an Android-powered smartphone later this month at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, according to “people familiar with the matter.”
Apparently, the Android handset that Nokia has been working on before it joined forces with Microsoft is coming to market after all, but it won’t be the kind of Android device you’re thinking of. It won’t include any of the Google Play Services—including apps like Gmail and APIs that enable features like multiplayer gaming—and it will be primarily geared for the emerging markets. You know, the same consumers that HTC announced it’ll go after earlier today. Nokia’s suite of HERE applications, which weren't a part of the Microsoft acquisition, will likely take the spotlight instead.
So before you cry out that you want Nokia's nifty hardware and fantastic cameras with Android, bear in mind that this particular Nokia Android phone is not likely to be one of those. It will almost certainly sport low-end hardware and a modest camera, and without Google's services, it's not "Android" in the way most consumers have come to think of it. You can't download apps from the Google Play store, or even sideload any apps that make use of Google's services. This is not going to be a Lumia 1520 with the full Android experience and a Nokia-made skin on top.
Some would posit that the Finnish company is playing with fire, since Microsoft in the process of buying its whole hardware division, but it’s a smart move for Nokia: Android is the number one mobile operating system in the world in large part because of its popularity in those low-budget overseas markets. With a focus on catching up to the rest of the key mobile players, Nokia needs to make an impression—fast. What better way to do so than to immediately jump into a market that wasn’t expecting its presence there in the first place?
Without all of the core Google applications, it’s hard to tell how the phone would perform in the wild. Most of this phone's direct competitors are built on the Android Open Source Project and similarly lack all the Google services we take for granted on Android phones. For now, we’re eagerly awaiting Nokia’s official announcement of the phone. We’ll be in Barcelona later this month reporting it all from the show floor.