The bizarre story of Nokia and Android

NOKIA and Android

When the history of the mobile phone is written, there will be a special chapter entitled ‘how the hell did that get made?’

This section will include strange devices such as the Ferrari phone (clue: it looked like a Ferrari), the Motorola ROKR (the official Apple iTunes phone before the iPhone came along) and the Microsoft Kin (a social media phone no one bought).

And it will definitely include the Nokia X.

Looks wise, there was nothing especially different about the X. It was what was on the inside that made this phone so strange.

Here was a Nokia phone launched in 2014, shortly after the company had thrown its future behind Windows Phone. It looked like a regular WinPho device with its grid of live tiles and  – but it was running Android.

It was all very strange. It seemed like a mini act of defiance against Microsoft by the dwindling number of people at Nokia. After all, this phone was launched just two months before Microsoft’s deal to buy Nokia was complete. 

The Nokia X is just one element in the long and strange story of the (ex) biggest handset maker in the world, and Google’s all-conquering OS.

To understand it, we should start in 2005. At this point, Nokia was selling a million phones a day. But then the smartphone arrived, and Nokia couldn’t get it right. It clung on to its clunky Symbian OS while Apple and Google pioneered sleekly touchscreen devices with icon-based menus.

In 2010, Nokia finally faced the music. It hired Stephen Elop from Microsoft, and within a year Elop had issued his famous ‘burning platform’ memo. This explained that Symbian was not good enough: it was time to make a choice and jump to a new OS.

He could have gone with Android. He chose Windows Phone.

Some people thought this was all a conspiracy by Microsoft. But Elop was not alone in rejecting Android. Anssi Vanjoki, one of Nokia’s most successful execs, said adopting Android would be like “peeing in your pants” to stay warm in winter.

We know the rest. Microsoft eventually bought Nokia and plugged away with WinPho for five years. Now, all the signs are that it has given up on that vision.

Meanwhile a version of much smaller version of Nokia lived on in Finland. And it chose Android.

So, after the Nokia X came the N1 tablet. Then, in 2016, Microsoft sold its feature phone business to a new business called HMD, founded by ex-Nokians. The deal lets HMD produce Nokia-branded devices for the next 10 years.

HMD burst on to the scene at Mobile World Congress earlier this year. It revealed three Nokia-branded Android smartphones: the Nokia 3,5 an 6. Here were the devices the world could have had six years ago in a parallel universe.

For Nokia fans, this was a big day. The devices certainly look sleek and cool. But they also look like every other Android phone, which is a bit of a let-down for people who remember when Nokia made handsets that looked like teardrops or lipstick cases.

Still, they do run Snake.

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