Microsoft Bought Nokia to Block Android Lumia Phones

Nokia's Lumia handsets represent about 80% of Windows Phone's sales. However Nokia was continuing to lose share to Android and iPhone in key markets across the globe. By the same token Windows Phones had failed to enable Nokia to re-enter the US smartphone market in any convincing way. 

Since the inception of the Microsoft-Nokia deal in early 2011, we had been arguing it was a serious mistake for Nokia to not offer an Android phone. However the terms of the agreement between the companies precluded that. In 2014 the deal was set to expire. But before that deal was renegotiated, Microsoft acquired Nokia's phone hardware business for roughly $7.2 billion.  

In the middle of last year we speculated that Microsoft might be compelled to acquire Nokia for defensive reasons. When the acquisition was announced a little over a week ago, I argued had Nokia embraced Android it would not have been so weakened and forced to sell itself. I also speculated this summer that Nokia would be compelled to come out with Android handsets if it wanted to survive:

My view is that Nokia will be compelled -- notwithstanding contractual exclusivity with Microsoft -- to adopt Android at some point in the not-too-distant future or remain stuck in what amounts to neutral.

Now the NY Times is reporting that Android Lumia phones were in development: 

A team within Nokia had Android up and running on the company’s Lumia handsets well before Microsoft and Nokia began negotiating Microsoft’s $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone and services business, according to two people briefed on the effort who declined to be identified because the project was confidential. Microsoft executives were aware of the existence of the project, these people said.

There are two overlapping potential scenarios: Nokia was developing Android handsets in part to add leverage in negotiations with Microsoft (for renewal or acquisition); and/or Nokia was developing Android handsets in earnest and would have rolled them out -- forcing Microsoft to avoid that outcome through an acquisition.

Regardless it appears that the idea of Nokia marketing both Android and Windows Phones was a potential disaster that Microsoft sought to avoid at great cost -- literally. As I've written elsehwere, however, it remains unclear that Microsoft's $7.2 billion have been well spent.