Forking Android is a challenge, but Nokia can make it work


Nokia will showcase its first Android handset at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, according to today’s Wall Street Journal report that confirms the long-rumored effort. The Finnish handset maker had been developing the phone while Microsoft was conducting due diligence on its acquisition of Nokia, the Journal reported, and Microsoft appears to have given the green light. And as my colleague Kevin Tofel predicted a few weeks ago, the device appears to be a low-cost smartphone targeted at the promising emerging markets where Windows Phone has spun its wheels.

Interestingly, the report comes just two days after Ars Technica’s Peter Bright wrote that forking Android is a self-defeating strategy. “Google has worked to make Android functionally unforkable,” Bright wrote, “with no practical way to simultaneously fork the platform and take advantage of its related strengths: abundant developers, and abundant applications.”

Bright is right, to an extent: While Android essentially remains an open source operating system, Google can withhold many integrated features like Gmail and Google Maps that make it attractive to consumers. That leverage is largely why Google recently was able to strong-arm Samsung into backing off its efforts to co-opt Android. But both Nokia and Microsoft have vast experience as platform providers, so they have broad developer relationships and a wide variety of apps and services (like Nokia’s Here) that can be pre-installed on Nokia’s Android devices. Forking Android now appears to be far more challenging than it was just a year ago, but Nokia and Microsoft may be able to make it work while it continues to develop Windows Phone.

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