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Is Nokia Dipping Its Toe in Android Waters?

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Despite its future as a Microsoft acquisition, Nokia is working on and may release a low-end Android phone.

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The last few years have been pretty rough on poor ol' Nokia (NYSE:NOK).

Once the world's largest smartphone vendor, Nokia began this year in the number-10 position, falling hard from the salad days of low-end feature phones. After hitching its wagon to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), the handset maker began manufacturing solid devices that were hamstrung by an underdeveloped and undersupported mobile OS, causing them to languish in obscurity. And that was after former CEO Stephen Elop famously noted the company's precipitous decline in an infamous memo that blasted Nokia's feeble attempts to take on Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), saying it now sits atop a "burning platform."

And now, a few months after Microsoft announced it will be acquiring Nokia's mobile phone business, it would appear that Nokia is forever tied to the Windows Phone OS with no hope of releasing a fantastically built smartphone on a competing platform.

But that might not be the case, according to The Verge. Apparently, Nokia has been working on an Android phone, code-named Normandy, which it may plan to release despite the Microsoft alliance.

Pictured in a leak by famed tech snoop @evleaks, the Normandy shows great similarity to Nokia's existing Lumia line with a vibrantly colored case and a thin, squared-off build. It looks as if there's one capacitive button for a back function, but that might change prior to the official release. And although it doesn't sport a rear camera nearly as large as the one found on the Lumia 1020, knowing Nokia's penchant for smartphone-camera quality, it should hold its own in the field.

At face value, the Normandy seems like it could be a fine entry in the Android world and bestow a superb build quality on Google's mobile masses. However, this device may not be an Android phone as we know it.

Rumor has it that the Normandy will feature a forked version of Android with a UI that's heavily modified, similar to Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle Fire OS, and bear little resemblance to existing Android phones. That means it's unlikely that the Normandy will have access to the Google Play Store as well as most, if not all, Google services. The Verge suspects it might fall more in line with Nokia's Asha devices which are cheaper, more low-end, and target emerging markets.

In short, this is by no means a flagship smartphone.

Even though the Normandy isn't poised to blow the competition out of the water, surely Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia's smartphone division would put the kibosh on any non-Windows device, right?

Not necessarily.

An insider at the Finnish company told the Verge that the Normandy is still planned as a 2014 release, and efforts to bring the product to market are being described as "full steam ahead." (How soon it's released after the deal with Microsoft is finalized remains to be seen.)

Making the device even sweeter for Redmond, additional sources told AllThingsD that the Normandy bears more similarities to a Windows Phone device than one running Android, boasting native Bing searches and Skype video conferencing rather than Google's more ubiquitous offerings.

So fans pining for Nokia to deliver an Android device got their wishes granted by a devious and deceptive genie, and considering the corporate alliance, it's unlikely that a future Nokia release will ever deliver the pure Google experience. That's also a sad state of affairs for Nokia, a struggling company forced to produce high-end devices with middling software.

If Nokia won't, or is unable to, develop for a larger smartphone market, it risks losing the majority of its user base to a platform with much greater support, causing its profits to drop further and its product lines to suffer in obsolescence.

One need only look at BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) to see how easily that could happen.

See also:

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Motorola's Wonderphone May Not Be a Pipe Dream

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