Google hopeful that Android will run Nokia smartphones

Nokia could build Android-based phones for U.S., where the worldwide mobile phone leader remains weak, analysts say

A Google executive said this week that he's hopeful that Nokia will decide to adopt the Android platform after new leadership at the world's biggest mobile phone manufacturer finishes a new evaluation of smartphone options.

Comments by Andy Rubin, vice president of Google's mobile platforms, during a conference this week prompted speculation about Nokia's upcoming smartphone plans. Analysts have expressed continuing concerns about Nokia's abysmal smartphone performance in the U.S., and are hoping that the company's recently appointed top leadership can change the downward trend.

While Nokia's Symbian OS is still the world's top mobile platform, it's widely seen as declining in importance. In fact, Finland-based Nokia has teamed with Intel to create a newer open source Meego mobile OS platform.

Rubin coyly avoided saying whether he has met with Nokia officials to discuss Android, but made it clear he hopes Nokia does use the widely popular platform, now used in some 175 phone models globally.

Rubin talked about his hopes for Nokia during an onstage question-and-answer session at the Dive into Mobile conference on Monday. (An All Things Digital video of highlights from the conference includes the Nokia comments at about six minutes in.)

Asked pointedly whether Google has discussed Android with Nokia, Rubin answered: "I think the company has new leadership and ... they are evaluating what their options are ... I'm a big proponent of Android and I hope they adopt it."

About whether a meeting took place, Rubin only said: "I'm not going to talk in detail."

A Nokia spokeswoman refused to comment Wednesday on whether executives from the two firms have discussed Android adoption by Nokia.

Analysts speculated that the two firms have met -- or will meet -- to discuss Android. Such a discussion makes sense given Nokia's current mamagement transformation, they add.

Nokia is clearly the leading mobile phone manufacturer worldwide, holding about 34 per cent of the overall market and 33 per cent of the global smartphone market, according to recent figures released by Gartner and IDC respectively.

However, Nokia trails other smartphone OSs and devices in the U.S., and does not even register on some surveys, including ComScore's most recent ranking .

It would seem unlikely that Nokia would easily accept Android , given that one outgoing smartphone business executive, Anssi Vanjoki, had blasted the Google created platform in September. Vanjoki used a slur in arguing that manufacturers can hurt their brands by selling phones that users buy for the operating system rather than the phone hardware.

Even so, Rubin's hope that Nokia will adopt the platform makes sense, analysts said.

Nokia officials "could change their business plan and adopt Android for the U.S. market alone," suggested Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, in an e-mail. "That would be a smart idea." The new leadership might be more willing to adopt Android in some fashion, some analysts said.

The new leadership at Nokia includes former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop, who was named CEO in September , and Rich Green, a former Sun Microsystems executive who ran the company's mobile Java unit, who was named CTO.

Green was not available to comment on Android, but has openly supported the Symbian platform despite its detractors.

In a Nov. 8 Nokia blog post , Green said that despite changes to the Symbian Foundation, Nokia remained committed to Symbian and that the company will deliver "an exciting portfolio of Symbian-based smartphones to consumers worldwide." However, Rubin this week noted that whatever Green and Nokia thinks of the Symbian OS, "Symbian is fading away now with the spotlight turning to Meego."

Rubin noted that Nokia plans to shut down the Symbian Foundation's Web site. The site is set to close on Dec. 17.

The Symbian Foundation announced on Nov. 8 that it would end the foundation's role as a non-profit, making it a legal entity for licensing software and other intellectual property.

Essentially, that move means Nokia is now the only Symbian licensee, Rubin noted. Both Samsung and Sony Ericsson had already moved off the Symbian platform.

Green, in the Nokia post, talked about the value of another Nokia move in October to focus solely on the Qt application development framework to support the Symbian and Meego platforms.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said Nokia "could very likely expand the Qt development environment to support Android, making it easier for developers to build apps that support both Android and Symbian. That is the most likely scenario in the short term."

Expanding Qt to Android "might be a good strategy to implement, as having more apps would help them not just in North America but worldwide," Gold added. However, he said it is unclear how many developers will use Qt.

"Nokia does need to do something and I have often recommended to them that they ditch Symbian in smartphones and adopt Android," Gold said. "Symbian is a non-starter in the important North American market, with near zero market share. Nokia needs to have a credible smartphone offering in North America."

Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group, said "an adopt-Andriod strategy might work for Nokia" but added that the strategy has risks that could prove a hard sell to shareholders.

Howe believes Nokia will continue its current strategy of boosing sales in Europe, Asia and Africa, where it sells more than half a billion phones in a year. "You can't argue with that volume," Howe said, but added that he wonders what will happen once those markets follow the U.S. and show a preference for smartphones.

Howe summarized the position of many Nokia observers: "Nokia faces a hard choice: either accept growing irrelevancy in the U.S. consumer market as consumers pick up new smartphones running Android, BlackBerry or [Apple's] iOS, or adopt one of the five other mobile OSs and differentiate with other phone features. Neither choice is a particularly attractive option."

Tags IT industryMobile and WirelesssymbiantelecommunicationPhonesNokiasmartphonesintelmobileGoogleconsumer electronics

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)

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