Microsoft phone chief: Nokia's Android phones will help get us to 1 billion users

In case you thought that Microsoft would put the kibosh on Nokia's line of Android phones now that the company sale has gone through, rest assured they're here to stay. Former Nokia CEO and current Microsoft devices chief Stephen Elop says that they're key to getting Microsoft to 1 billion users of its services.

Nokia introduced its line of Android-based Nokia X phones in the developing world, targeting potential smartphone users who can't afford more expensive devices. The developing world had traditionally been a Nokia stronghold, but when the company made the move to Windows Phone, its market share there plummeted.

Think of the phones as Windroid phones, because even though they're based on Android, the services they carry are all Microsoft ones: Bing, Outlook email, OneDrive storage, Skype for VoIP phone calls, and so on. The idea is to hook people on Microsoft services, no matter the hardware that gets them there. The idea is also to use Android phones as a gateway so that when people can afford more expensive phones, they'll move up to Windows Phones, because they'll be big users of the Microsoft ecosystem.

Some people believed that once Microsoft took over Nokia, it would kill the phones. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stephen Elop, Nokia CEO and now chief of Microsoft's Devices unit, made clear in a Nokia Ask Me Anything session today that the X line of Android devices are key to Microsoft's future. In response to a question about the X line, he had this to say:

"Microsoft acquired the mobile phones business, inclusive of Nokia X, to help connect the next billion people to Microsoft's services. Nokia X uses the MSFT cloud, not Google's. This is a great opportunity to connect new customers to Skype, and Onedrive for the first time. We've already seen tens of thousands of new subscribers on MSFT services."

Nothing could be clearer than that. And he's echoing what Windows chief Terry Myerson told Mary Jo Foley in an interview several weeks ago:

"More users of our applications and services is fantastic. If someone is (using an iPad), I hope they really are using Office and OneDrive and Skype, on that iPad. That is a fantastic Microsoft customer. It's great for Microsoft. The same will be true of Nokia. I genuinely feel that way."

But while it's clear that Microsoft is serious about going all in with Android, it's not so clear that the company's goal of 1 billion users of its services is achievable any time soon. Windows Phone so far has been a bust. And I don't think it reasonable to expect that low-cost Android devices in the developing world will give Microsoft a rocket boost to get to 1 billion users.

However, it's still the right move on Microsoft's part. The company is right that its future is in services rather than Windows, and it's doing all the right things to get there.

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