At Mobile World Congress Monday in Barcelona, Nokia introduced its Nokia X series - three hybrid quasi-Android phones. The phones combine the Android kernel with Windows-style tiles.
The Nokia phones are as much (or little) Android as is Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle. Like Amazon, Nokia eschewed Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) proprietary layers and added its own proprietary layers on top of the Android Open Source Project. The new phones have Nokia's Store, with Nokia's maps, radio and in-app payments.
According to Nokia:
Nokia Store testing has shown that approximately 75% of Android apps will run properly without any modifications; they're ready to be published in Nokia Store.
For the remainder:
If your app uses Google services for push notifications, maps or in-app payments, you'll need to make a few changes, but it won't take long (usually less than 8 hours). Nokia services have been designed to minimize porting effort from apps using corresponding Google services and allow developers develop and distribute a single APK targeting multiple stores.
Nokia even offers a service for testing apps to see if they are compatible. If not, Nokia is doing a road tour (the "Nokia X Porting Bus") across Europe to help developers to port their apps to provide dual-platform support.
Either way, developers will need to submit their apps to the Nokia Store to have them made available to customers.
The news sites are speculating about how Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) feels about this signal undercutting Nokia's devotion to the Windows platform, in anticipation of the handset business being swallowed by Microsoft.
Microsoft can keep or cancel the platform once it takes control. In the meantime, Nokia and Android developers can attempt a low-cost experiment to see whether app makers will pay the porting costs, and whether Nokia's hardware competencies are valuable for Android customers in third world countries. Still, it's hard to imagine a scenario under which this platform is still available for sale in three years.
For me, what is most interesting is what this experiment means for the future of non-Android Android devices. The Nook was first, then the Kindle. Will this encourage other experiments? Will these experiments create a demand for non-Google Android devices? Will developers make dual-platform applications? Will it undercut the market power of the Android compatibility program?
So will this reduce Google's control of the platform by moving demand to lower layers? Will it promote further dominance by Android? Or will it be the tree that falls in the forest, that no one ever hears?
Disclosure: Author holds a position in MSFT.