Print 15 comment(s) - last by LRonaldHubbs.. on Jun 29 at 8:44 PM

New platform required a new version of Android

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) -- and customers of its newly acquired Nokia Devices unit -- are discovering first hand why branching Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android is no easy task.  Hot on the heels of good news -- a plan to upgrade the midrange Android-based Windows Phone clone, Nokia X to a second-gen operating system and improved hardware (more RAM, a faster Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon 200, etc.) -- Microsoft's Mobile Phones UX Design Studio chief, Yannis Paniaras, delivered the bad news.  Current generation Nokia X handsets will be left behind and may not receive the major update.
I. Nokia X/X+/XL -- No X2 Upgrade For You!
Mr. Yannis writes from Beijing, China:
[B]ecause of the necessary hardware upgrades, the Nokia X software platform 2.0 won't be available on Nokia X, Nokia X+ or Nokia XL. However, more updates will be coming to further improve the experience of those devices in the coming months.
In other words, Nokia X/X+/XL customers find themselves in a situation akin to Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 buyers.  And in a way, Microsoft's excuse has gotten even more tenuous, because we know the OS could theoretically run on the current lineup's hardware based on what we've seen with Android.
Nokia X screens
While the second-generation Nokia X2 OS will switch versions of Android (branched from v4.1.2 "Jelly Bean" rather 4.3 "Jelly Bean"), that alone doesn't explain why it can't install on the legacy devices.  The problem lies, it would seem, in the button selection.
The original Nokia X was a questionable idea on paper, and in the wild it has proven a frustrating mixture of well crafted, polished parts alongside painfully senseless design decisions.  
Among the senseless bits was the phone's button selection and means of handling multitasking.  Multitasking on the Nokia X was more or less broken. The "Fast Lane" UI element (Home Screen; swipe left from right hand corner) was not true multitasking in that it offered no way to completely close background running apps, and at times had trouble restoring state information.  This train wreck is fixable, thankfully, via a paid app that restores normal Android-style multi-tasking.

The downside is that you have to run the app every time you want to actually close stuff.  Nokia Devices has hinted that there's autocleanup to free up unused, backgrounded apps after some time.  But it's unclear how efficient these routines are, so users are left to fix this poor design decision, if they want to play it safe.
In another bizarre twist, the original "Normandy" family of Nokia X devices shared something in common with Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone -- they only had one button (back).  While Nokia (and by proxy Microsoft) seemed to initially view this imitation of Apple as "innovation", customers were swift to inform them of the folly of their logic was swiftly.  

Nokia X
Offering only one button wasn't the brightest decision from Microsoft/Nokia when it came to the Nokia X.

While the UI allowed a long-press of the back button as a home button stand-in, many users did not realize that option or had trouble executing the press, and begrudgingly resorted to tapping their way back to the home screen the slow way.

II. Botched and Broken, Nokia X Lacks the Buttons to Upgrade

With Nokia X2, Microsoft has moved towards a fix on both fronts.  First, it slides over the back button to allow Windows Phone style multi-tasking (via a long press).  Second, it adds a notification center similar to the just-added one in Windows Phone 8.1, to reduce the reliance on going to your homescreen to tweak a common setting.  Lastly, it adds a second button on the right -- home.

As Nokia X only had one button, its long press is already used as a Home button, so that nixes the multitasking.  Also, on the Nokia X2, the Fast Lane has changed sides, shifting to the left of the Home screen (accessed by swiping right from the left edge).
This shift allows Microsoft to put a Windows Phone-like alphabetical listing of all installed apps.  It was necessary to put it on the right in order to be consistent with Windows Phone.  But the tradeoff was that the Fast Lane changed sides, which would make it difficult to upgrade Nokia X devices (particularly given the much bigger roll of Fast Lane as the pseudo-multitasking solution on that platform).

Nokia X2
Nokia X2

Aside from the listing, about the only other thing added -- Notifications -- could certainly be ported, but would have a more limited set of ways to close (many people close notifications in Android via the Home button, although you can also swipe up or hit the back key).
The only remaining thing that the Nokia X2 platform hasn't added is a fleshed out search function.  Maybe next generation's Nokia X3 will add a third button (search), making it a true Windows Phone clone and enabling easy-to-access search.
III. The Path Ahead and the Price Question
In short, Nokia X devices aren't getting an upgrade yet as their hardware is a work in progress and a rather messy one at that.  However, Microsoft is fairly good with looking out for consumers.  Even with the dreaded Windows Phone 7 dead-end, users got a serviceable Windows Phone 7.8 update that contained enough of Windows Phone 8's features to keep the platform from feeling completely stale.   Nokia X will likely see a similar update, with part of Nokia X2's bits.
But the entire process begs a question -- why doesn't Microsoft just make a cheap Windows Phone?  Given how efficient Windows Phone is, particularly on its lower-end X00 (Windows Phone 7) and Lumia X20 (Windows Phone 8) devices, it's hard to believe it's not doable.  Currently Microsoft's low-end hardware in the "pure" Windows Phone track is the $159 USD Lumia 630 (Snapdragon 400; quad core).

Lumia 630
The Lumia 630 starts at $159 USD.

That spec suggests Microsoft could push even lower.  Microsoft does have one such handset -- the Lumia 530 ("Rock") planned.  It will likely be priced similarly to the popular Lumia 520/521, which retails for $110 USD.  It's expected to vie with Android's Moto E ($129 USD; 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 dual-core; qHD (960x540 pixel; 16:9) 4.3-inch display) for supremacy on the low end.

Moto E
The Moto E starts at $129 USD.

And that brings up the Nokia X2's greatest flaw -- price and positioning in Microsoft's lineup.  It stacks in at a svelte €99 ($135 USD) price point, the midway point of the previous generation, which was priced at €89 ($120 USD; Nokia X), €99 ($135 USD; Nokia XR/XL), and €109 ($150 USD; Nokia X+).
That's not terrible, given the hardware, but it's way too high.  The problem is really at that price the Nokia X2 is redundant with the Lumia 530, which should be out anytime now.  What Microsoft needs to do is shave roughly $35 USD off that price.
Ultimately Microsoft appears to be bringing its Android branch's UI in line with Windows Phone.  It's also slowly adding in features, perhaps relying on Google's work on the basic firmware side to avoid distractions and focus on tuning performance of ported versions of apps, capable of running on low-end processors like the Snapdragon 200.  Eventually Microsoft may kill the branch and replace it with Windows Phone, once the apps mature enough.  Or it may opt to push Nokia X even lower, displacing Asha.  
That's a logical path, but the fact that Microsoft is packing a dual-core processor (overkill) into the Nokia X2 and pricing it so high calls into question if that's the real plan.  And if that's not the plan, what is the plan?
That's a hard question to answer.  There are logical directions -- at least -- based on Microsoft's current strategy.  But Microsoft is not necessarily showing signs that it's following them.  We'll have to just wait and see how this one plays out.

Source: Nokia

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Standard procedure with Android devices.
By Gungel on 6/25/2014 8:15:26 AM , Rating: 4
Most low cost Android devices never see an upgrade anyway. So the Nokia X fits right in.

By retrospooty on 6/25/2014 9:10:17 AM , Rating: 3
Yup, pretty much expected for a $100 device. That isnt just low end, its the ultra low end. It's not like a bad thing. Anyone paying for a $100 phone in a market where the high end is 6-7x the price is aware of what they are getting.

RE: Standard procedure with Android devices.
By Reclaimer77 on 6/25/2014 9:45:28 AM , Rating: 1
Nice try, the Moto G and E get upgrades just fine as well as some others.

This thing was DOA from day one. At least with cheap Android phones, some models have a CHANCE at upgrades.

Plus, and I keep having to say this, Google does the most important updates to Android through the Play Store; updating the Google apps. Regardless of what phone you have, you get those.

I hesitate to even call these Nokia X's "Android" phones. Just some strange Frankenstein freak-phone running Linux.

By middlehead on 6/25/2014 11:23:38 AM , Rating: 3
Gungel says MOST, you give two specific examples of the LESS group. So you know, you just agreed with Gungel.

RE: Standard procedure with Android devices.
By Gungel on 6/25/2014 3:19:34 PM , Rating: 3
Just look at the statistics for Android versions in use. Just 13% is running on 4.4. Most devices will never see an update and the one that do will maybe get one or two updates only. It will get even worse now since they split the OS into two, one for low spec devices (Android One) and one for mid to high end devices (Android L or whatever the final will be called).

By Reclaimer77 on 6/25/2014 3:38:40 PM , Rating: 1
That's not fair. A lot of those are one-off knockoff Chinese phones. It's not like Google can push a new OS version to them, come on!

It will get even worse now since they split the OS into two

Uh no, it will get even BETTER. Google is taking control of the low-end spec to guarantee better experience for users and a unified platform with which to provide standardization. Which WILL translate into, among other things, more and faster update cycle.

Android One is probably the best possible thing Google could do to combat the state of most of the low-end market.

I think you need to read up on what Android One actually is. You're making it sound like more fragmentation or a completely different OS.

By LRonaldHubbs on 6/29/2014 8:44:12 PM , Rating: 2
Android One is a reference platform for cheap phones using stock Android, and guarantees that customers always have a budget option without the 3rd party bloat. It is complementary to the role of the Nexus platform in the high-end phone space.

Most probably part of the plan
By Krinosy on 6/24/2014 8:37:11 PM , Rating: 5
Considering some of the markets where MS has reported the Nokia X reaching top selling smartphone status (Pakistan, Russia, Kenya, Nigeria) updates may simply not be part of the business plan. If they're being sold as direct replacements for feature phones they may be sold on a similar 'sell and forget' basis, where the customer updating the phone themselves may be cumbersome and/or almost impossible due to limited internet access.

We keep looking at these devices intended for developing markets with our developed market sensibilities - it's unreasonable to place our expectations (such as frequent phone updates) onto markets that simply don't have the same needs.

By amanojaku on 6/24/2014 11:39:23 PM , Rating: 5
Your post was filled with too much logic and common sense.

Please resubmit with the customary trolling, flame baiting, and emotional outbursts.

Who approved the X project?
By Gunbuster on 6/25/2014 9:39:47 AM , Rating: 3
The thing I don't understand is who approved this project while at the same time the Lumia 52X was on track to sell for under $40 on sale.

Hmmm the 52X runs our core OS, gets upgrades, and is cheaper. Yeah lets task resources to make a me-to branched android phone.

RE: Who approved the X project?
By retrospooty on 6/25/2014 10:12:55 AM , Rating: 3
"The thing I don't understand is who approved this project while at the same time the Lumia 52X was on track to sell for under $40 on sale"

Because they wanted to actually SELL some phones. People just aren't buying WP in any significant #'s.

RE: Who approved the X project?
By Reclaimer77 on 6/25/2014 11:03:34 AM , Rating: 1
Oh now you've done it. Queue in Mitch/AtechShill in 5...4...3...2....1........

RE: Who approved the X project?
By nikon133 on 6/25/2014 5:01:00 PM , Rating: 2
You are too hard on WP.

Back in March 2013, Nokia was outselling iPhone in 7 markets.

Beginning of 2014, they were outselling iPhone in 24 markets.

I think increase of wining markets is less important than addition of some rich or at least reasonably doing markets - Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates. If I remember correctly, WP is holding it's ground against iPhone in some other EU countries - England and France come to my mind, I might be wrong here though.

That's not too bad for Johnny-come-lately.

RE: Who approved the X project?
By retrospooty on 6/25/2014 6:20:58 PM , Rating: 1
You are being too generous to WP by cherry picking small markets. The overall worldwide market share is small and hasn't really climbed much the last year.

A cheaper and easier way
By Belard on 6/27/2014 5:09:44 PM , Rating: 2
If someone wants an easy and cheap way to get the "Windows Phone 8" experience. Download the Launcher 9 APP.

It gives you the WP8 launcher design... and more. And of course it doesn't change the OS itself and runs all the apps as normal.

Some things it does that WP8 doesn't do: User custom colors PER tile. And tile rotation (to the phone's orientation = cool)

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