Nokia Normandy: is Android going to kill Asha?
Phone. But, given what we're seeing in these images, if the Normandy is running an Android fork, we have some serious concerns about the future of Nokia's Asha software.The rumors since we first heard about the Nokia Normandy were that it was the first device planned from Nokia to be running a fork of Android, and that very well may be true. It is hard to imagine that Microsoft would allow Nokia to release an Android device, since it is in the process of purchasing the Nokia Devices and Services division to be its hardware arm for Windows
An Asha pedigree
The similarities are pretty easy to see when you take a look at Nokia's recent Asha devices compared to the Normandy leaks. For starters, just like the recent Nokia Asha 50x devices, there is only one capacitive button found on the front of the Normandy is the back button. And, just like the Asha devices that back button is designed to look like a left chevron (aka the less-than symbol "<"). Additionally, the mobile signal/SIM card symbols are found on the left-hand side of the system bar at the top of the screen, which is where you'd find them in Asha.
This second part might seem like a small issue, but it has a big impact on whether or not the device is running Android or a fork of Android. In Android, notification icons appear in that left-hand spot and drop down in the notification tray; in Asha, only phone and messaging notifications appear in that top tray. It's hard to imagine that Nokia would put in the work to customize Android and either ditch the notification tray all-together (which would take a lot of work to do for what seems to be little benefit). Simplifying the tray to be more like Asha would be possible, and would certainly limit over-complication for those who may be switching from Asha to Android.
Of course, notifications are shown in the Normandy images; they are found on the lock screen in rectangular bars stacked at the bottom of the screen. You can probably guess exactly what the next thing we're going to say - that's exactly where you'll find notifications in Asha. If you take a look at the Nokia 501 press shots, you’ll see that the lock screen looks almost exactly the same as what is in the Normandy leaks. The notification messages have been updated to be a bit more visual with contact images.
The only place where Asha and the Normandy images really diverge is in the start screen UI and the apps. We’ve seen two leaks of the Normandy start screen and they each look a bit different, so the UI has obviously been going through changes. The Asha start screen has traditionally been a grid of circular app icons, but the transformation has shown it becoming more and more like the Windows Phone start screen. This would make sense since Microsoft is in the process of purchasing Nokia, and it also lends more weight to the idea that this is an Asha device, because the general thinking is that Microsoft might not want to adopt Android into its lineup. But, it is not inconceivable to imagine Microsoft adopting Android, because that strategy would actually have some interesting benefits for Microsoft.
An Android fork to replace Asha?
If the Normandy is running Android, it is clearly an Android fork that is designed to look similar to Asha with a splash of Windows Phone. But, if the Nokia Android fork is being designed to look like Asha, it follows that it may eventually replace Asha. If it didn’t, it would end up causing confusion in the market by having two devices that look like they are running the same OS, but aren’t. If it is planned to replace Asha, the question would be: why?
We think the answer to that is pretty easy though: developers. Nokia Asha has done okay in emerging markets, but more and more there are true smartphone platforms making headway in those same markets. As Android and Windows Phone continue to gain share in emerging markets with low-cost devices there is less room for Asha; and, developers are going to be pulled in various directions not just by Android, iOS, and Windows Phone, but by the myriad other options like Tizen, FirefoxOS, BlackBerry, Jolla, and Ubuntu. Asha can only run fairly simple Java apps and web apps, so it makes sense that Nokia would have found it easier to scrap Asha in favor of Android.
The rumors have consistently talked about the Normandy as an Android device, not Asha. Evleaks was the first to out it as an Android device, and The Verge has also confirmed the device to be running Android, because Asha hasn’t been able to offer proper smartphone apps to low-end users. And, that brings us back to what we mentioned before: where Normandy really pulls away from the claims that it could be an Asha device is in the apps. Asha just can't run the type of apps that Android can, and doesn't have nearly the app ecosystem.
The most telling thing in any of the Normandy screenshots has been the apps. The first shot we saw of the Normandy with something on the screen showed a Skype app running, and the recent shot of the start screen showed an icon for Plants vs Zombies 2. Neither of these apps would be able to run on Asha, but are obviously available for Android. And, there are hundreds of thousands of other Android apps that don’t include Google Play services hooks, which would be able to run easily on a fork of Android. In the end, it would not only be much easier for developers to create an app for Android and release it in multiple app stores like Google Play, Amazon, MIUI, but the apps available would be far more sophisticated.
Nokia has proven itself successful in the low-end/emerging markets with both Asha devices and Windows Phone devices. Android has also been quite successful in emerging markets and many times it is non-Google Android rather than an Android device packing Google Play services. Quite a lot of the Android devices found in China are from Xiaomi, which has the MIUI app store, and no Google Play; so, it's not out of the question that Nokia would be able to make this sort of fork work.
Since we first heard about Nokia working on an Android device, we didn't really know what to expect. Now we're seeing what Nokia had been planning, and it looks like Android would be a replacement for Asha. But, the question still remains as to whether or not the Normandy will ever actually see the open market. We've heard that the plans are "full steam ahead", but we've also heard that the plans for the Normandy have been cancelled. Of course, after both of those reports, we've gotten new leaks from Evleaks for the device, and a note from Evleaks that the reports of Normandy's death have been "greatly exaggerated".
Although Windows Phone has made up most of its market share gains recently in the low-end market, analysts are uncertain if Microsoft's best path forward in emerging markets is with its own platform. Windows Phone has been growing very quickly, but Android is still a much more mature platform, and manufacturers are quickly getting Android prices down to where they can compete with devices like the Nokia Lumia 520 ($99 off-contract). Microsoft may not have a choice but to use Android as a weapon against Google, just like Amazon has.