Nokia Normandy: is Android really coming to Microsoft? (hint: maybe yes!)

Rumors have been flying for the past few weeks about the possibility of a new Nokia phone, code named Normandy, which runs Android. Prolific mobile tidbits leaker @evleaks has provided screenshots of not only the device, but of a new Metro-ish UI to go along with it, and Tom Warren at The Verge has provided a set of specs for the new phone, placing it at the low end of the hardware scale, with a 4″ screen, a 1GHz Snapdragon 2 processor, 512MB RAM, 4GB of storage and a 5MP camera.

The rumors haven’t been only about the specs, either. Tech writers from all corners have been making guesses about what it all could mean, from Sam Sabri at WP Central who thinks that Normandy was all a ploy to get Microsoft to buy Nokia’s Asha low-end phones business along with Lumia, to Harish Jonnalgadda at WMPowerUser, who thinks that Nokia may be planning on releasing Normandy under a new brand, getting right back into the phone business it just left, to Mary Jo Foley, who thinks a Windows Phone-ish “cousin”, running Android, just might make some sense:

But an Android OS variant which looks and feels like a Windows Phone OS sibling or cousin — as wild as that sounds at first — actually makes more sense strategy-wise for Microsoft, in my opinion.

But of all the guesses and postulations, Kevin Tofel over at GigaOM may have just come closest to the mark. In a post earlier this week, Tofel suggests that Normandy, rather than a rogue upstart or a negotiating ploy, may indeed be an indication that Nokia’s plan is to replace S40, the proprietary language running the Asha line, with Android:

By replacing S40 with Android as the underlying platform to power the Asha line, Nokia can take advantage of Android’s wide usage and developer support. Nokia can customize the look and feel of Android, similar in approach to Amazon’s Kindle, while building in access to Microsoft’s software and services. Think SkyDrive, Skype and Office.

Once you get past the bad taste in your mouth from the possibility of Microsoft products running Android, this idea actually could make a lot of sense. Microsoft’s focus hasn’t been, and probably should never be in producing low cost handsets, running Not-Windows, for emerging markets. Yet, by acquiring Asha, that’s exactly what they’re going to have to do, and right now Asha runs on the aging S40 OS. That means that Microsoft will either have to spend millions of dollars and countless resources developing a new OS or updating S40, or backport Windows Phone / Windows RT / Windows 9.x to run on very low end hardware, or perhaps even just let the Asha line wither and die.

However there are a lot of advantages to a robust entry level line of phones for emerging markets. As a devices and services company, Microsoft could, and probably should, leverage that potentially lucrative market, and do it in a way that promotes Microsoft services, such as Office, Skype, and SkyDrive. In fact, if the rumors are correct, Normandy appears to be running a forked version of Android, similar to the Kindle Fire, without any bundled Google services (and presumably bundled with Microsoft services, instead).

Another point to consider is that Microsoft itself could have quite a licensing advantage, as the patents it holds on Android, with licensing fees charged to other OEMs, would not have to be paid to itself. In other words, Microsoft could not only run Android on Asha, but it could do it cheaper than any of its competitors (all the while diverting the development costs for OS improvements to its rivals at Google!).

Microsoft is stuck playing in an Android world. Many of its services already have robust Android apps, including Bing, Skype, and SkyDrive. While a Microsoft on Android device or devices sounds like crazy talk, running Asha on Android, building in Microsoft services and a Windows Phone-type look and feel, and being able to do it cheaper than the competition suddenly doesn’t sound quite so bad. What do you think of Nokia Normandy? Was it all a ploy to get Microsoft to buy Asha, a way for Nokia itself to get back in the phones game, or could we soon see Microsoft devices running Android?