The test versions of device, which is codenamed “Normandy,” run a heavily modified version of Android. In late November, @evleaks posted an alleged image of the phone, which (if accurate) includes many of the Nokia design hallmarks, such as a brightly colored shell and prominent rear camera. Exactly how the software differs from the “standard” version of Android is an open question, although other companies that have forked the operating system (most notably Amazon, with its Kindle tablets) haven’t been shy about modifying the user interface in radical ways.
According to AllThingsD, Nokia’s “low-end mobile phone unit” is overseeing the project. “Normandy aims to repurpose the open-source version of Android into a better entry-level smartphone than Nokia has had with its current Asha line,” the publication explained, “which is based on the aging Series 40 operating system.”
But here’s the rub: Nokia’s phone unit is well on its way to becoming a Microsoft subsidiary. Microsoft competes against Google in many arenas, including mobile and search. The idea of a Microsoft ancillary producing an Android-based phone to compete in lower-end markets—where cheap Android phones dominate—is liable to provoke a burst of surprised laughter from anyone in tech: surely such a project would never hit store-shelves, given Microsoft’s very public backing of Windows Phone as its sole mobile OS.
And yet, there’s also reason to think Microsoft might actually take a chance on an alternative OS. Over the past few years, the company’s legal team has cornered the majority of Android manufacturers worldwide into a stark deal: agree to pay a set fee for every Android device produced, or face a costly patent-infringement lawsuit. As a result of that arm-twisting, Microsoft already makes quite a bit of money off Android (more, perhaps, than it earns selling Windows Phone), which could acclimate it to the idea of taking the leap and actually selling Android devices.
Second, Microsoft knows it must become a stronger challenger in mobile, and that it needs to take some big risks in order to make that happen. With CEO Steve Ballmer transitioning out of the company, his replacement could be more willing to experiment in radical ways. If that proves the case, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Microsoft could release an Android smartphone as a “test.”
On the other hand, Microsoft is very dedicated to Windows Phone, and a lot of executives at the company have careers (or at least their bonuses) riding on its success; given the company’s penchant for infighting, it seems unlikely that they’d sit back and let an in-house Android device threaten what they’ve built.