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Nokia-X-Dual-SIM-frontNokia’s decision to release a new lineup of Android phones might seem like heresy inside Microsoft — which will acquire the new Nokia X Android mobile phones, in addition to Nokia’s higher-end smartphone lineup, as part of its pending $7.2 billion purchase of Nokia’s devices and services business.

But it turns out that Microsoft actually knew about the Nokia X project when the Nokia acquisition was announced, based on what we’re hearing from inside the company. Microsoft decided to go ahead with the plan to include the lower-end mobile phone business in the broader acquisition — consciously bringing an Android device into its portfolio.

The big question is how long the Nokia X will be around. Despite speculation that Microsoft will kill the project soon after completing the Nokia deal, that is highly unlikely. Such a move would throw a wrench into a key part of the Nokia business, and cause major complications at its manufacturing facilities.

However, over time, Microsoft is positioning Windows Phone to become more competitive at the low price points and in the emerging markets where Android has become dominant. This was one of the points of Microsoft’s own announcements at Mobile World Congress over the weekend. If the company can succeed in this quest, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Nokia X lineup phased out over time. But that’s a long timeframe, not anything imminent.

In the meantime, Nokia appears to be doing its best to make the phones palatable inside Microsoft, replacing Google’s services on the phone with connections to OneDrive, Skype and other Microsoft cloud services. At the same time, it will leverage the strength of Google’s Android ecosystem, with a relatively easy process for existing Android developers to port their devices to the new Nokia smartphone.

Nokiax
Nokia’s Stephen Elop introduces the Nokia X on stage in Barcelona.

“We are introducing new customers around the world to popular Microsoft services,” said Nokia executive Stephen Elop, introducing the new Nokia X lineup at a Monday morning news conference. “The Nokia X takes people to Microsoft’s cloud, not to Google’s cloud. This was very deliberate. With this, Microsoft will be able to reach people it has never talked to before.”

Another important point is that the Nokia X is not a replacement for the Nokia Lumia Windows Phones, but instead a new product from Nokia’s mobile phone unit, which makes existing devices including the Asha lineup. That also makes the Nokia X easier for Microsoft to swallow.

Over time, however, this will be a litmus test for new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who has been stressing the importance of Microsoft being “cloud first and mobile first” and getting its services on as many platforms and devices as possible. The challenge will be balancing that pragmatism with the need to support Microsoft’s own native platforms, which will make the Nokia X an important product to watch in the months and years ahead.

See our earlier story for more on the Nokia X lineup and specs.

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