It appears Microsoft Mobile, the company that consists of what most users throughout the world new as Nokia, will continue manufacturing devices that don’t run Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system. More specifically, it appears as if the Nokia X family, a group of devices built on top of Google’s Android operating system, will continue to be a priority.
Microsoft devices head and former Nokia CEO Steven Elop assured new Microsoft employees that it’d continue doing the things that made it great in an email earlier this morning that’s been posted to the Nokia Conversations blog. Elop specifically names Nokia X devices in his email. He also calls out the Asha family of feature phones that Nokia sold in emerging markets.
Unfortunately, the language Elop uses in the email leaves Microsoft Mobile’s plans up for interpretation. Commenting on the devices Elop says, “We are committed to continuing our support for the feature phones, the Asha family, and the Nokia X family of devices.” “Continuing our support,” could mean that Microsoft Mobile just has plans to make sure that users can get their device’s repaired and load new apps on their existing system. That isn’t to say that Microsoft Mobile doesn’t have plans to continue offering Nokia X devices, just that the language doesn’t explicitly confirm that there are more devices in the pipeline.
The email itself closes with an invite asking users to participate in an Ask Me Anything-style question and answer session with Elop on Monday.
Announced at this year’s Mobile World Congress event, Nokia X is and was Nokia’s attempt to boost the slightly sagging sales of its feature phones. Until that point the company produced just two kinds of phones: feature phones running its older operating system and smartphones running Windows Phone 8. Nokia X exists to bridge the gap between those two platforms.
Nokia X devices run Android but users don’t get a stock Android experience at all. Instead, Nokia used the Android code as a way to easily get more apps into its own forked Nokia X app Store. Beyond that there’s very little of the Android operating system’s interface left on a Nokia X device. In fact, the entire design of the version of Android that Nokia X devices run looks a lot like what users get on Windows Phone.
Many industry insiders expecting Nokia to make the Nokia X available in all places where Windows Phone sales were soft. Nokia opted not to do that. Instead, Nokia X devices are only available in specific territories where feature phones are still the norm. Only users in countries in Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East can pick up Nokia X devices to use on their carrier of choice.
Nokia X devices aren’t available in the United States, probably because Nokia and Microsoft weren’t comfortable with having them compete with Windows Phone on American shores, where Android is much more popular. Letting the extremely low-cost devices loose in America could have decimated sales of Windows Phone where they’re needed the most, especially since the overwhelming majority of Nokia Lumia Windows Phones sold in the United States are low-end devices like the Lumia 520.
In the United States, attention is on smartphones, however it’s worth noting that Microsoft is now the second-largest seller of mobile phones behind Samsung. Presumably, Microsoft will use that position to funnel feature phone users into Lumia Windows Phones. Even if it doesn’t, Microsoft can use the Nokia X and Nokia X low-end phones to get their software and services in front of more users. Microsoft already makes most of its services available on Android. As such, the Nokia X seems like the perfect platform to get even more users around the world hooked on things like Skype, Office 365, Outlook and more.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if Microsoft Mobile has any immediate changes coming that will impact users in any big way. Microsoft itself announced Windows Phone 8.1, a free update for existing Windows Phones, earlier this month. That update contains a new voice assistant and a boat-load of new features that’ll be crucial for boosting low-end Windows Phone sales in developing countries. For example, Windows Phone is now free for hardware companies to license and Windows Phone 8.1 also includes dual-SIM card support. Rumors indicated that not having dual-SIM card support so that device owners could switch between networks based on pricing and call quality seamlessly was why Nokia opted to build the Nokia X with Android instead of Windows Phone.
As of today, all smartphones made by Microsoft going forward won’t include the Nokia branding at all. That’s because Microsoft didn’t actually buy all of Nokia, just its Devices and Services division. This means that at some point Microsoft will need to actually announce plans for new branding and more. Microsoft does own the Lumia and Asha brands so it’s entirely possible that the company will decide to simply refer to Windows Phones it makes as “Microsoft Lumias”.