A Microsoft Android Phone: Unthinkable, but Maybe Not Impossible

All Things D says that it's in the works, and might ship.

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Yesterday, I wrote about The Verge’s report that Nokia was furiously working on a low-end phone running a customized version of Google’s Android. I said I couldn’t figure out a reason why Microsoft — soon to be the owner of Nokia’s phone business — would support such an idea.

Now All Things D’s Ina Fried, who ranks high on the list of tech’s most reliable reporters, says that Nokia’s “Normandy” Android phone project is indeed the real deal, and that it’s not a given that Microsoft will nix it:

While Normandy has some open-source elements of Android at its core, Nokia would be heavily customizing the look of the software, as well as the services at its core, much as Amazon has with its Kindle line.

According to a Nokia source, the software has a look more similar to Windows Phone than to the “squircle” icons used on the Asha. Normandy would also serve as a way to deliver Microsoft services such as Bing and Skype.

That is seen by some at Microsoft as a more palatable alternative than watching more of those first-time smartphone buyers sign up not just for Android but also for Google’s array of services.

Carly Fiorina

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HP CEO Carly Fiorina brandishes the HP iPod at CES 2004

There’s nothing confusing about the idea of Microsoft wanting to offer smartphones to compete with the budget-priced ones that nearly always run Android. It’s just that the company accomplishing that by using Android — even in modified form — rather than some form of Windows Phone still short-circuits my brain.

Still, if it happens, it won’t be weird in a completely unprecedented way. Once upon a time, there was an HP iPod and a Palm handset that ran Windows Mobile. For the companies involved, they must have seemed like good, expedient ideas at the time. But both frankenproducts turned out to be short-lived, idiosyncratic experiments which didn’t make anybody very happy — including consumers. Could a Microsoft Android phone avoid that fate?