Opera grabs prime spot on Microsoft's Nokia X2, but searches go to Google

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Norwegian browser becomes default on Microsoft's new and inherited Android-powered smartphones

Microsoft's newest Android smartphone, the Nokia X2, relies on Opera as the pre-installed default browser, Norwegian developer Opera Software said today.

But Opera defaults to using Google's search engine, not Microsoft's own Bing.

The Nokia X2, which was introduced today, is an inexpensive smartphone -- priced at €99 ($135) -- that will be available next month in select markets.

A follow-up to previous Nokia smartphones that were based on Google's Android operating system, the X2 is the first one to be announced and prepped for sale since the completion in late April of Microsoft's acquisition of the Finnish company's handset business.

Microsoft has packed the Nokia X2 with its own services -- rather than ones from Google -- including Outlook.com, Skype and OneDrive, all available via Android-based apps pre-installed on the device. But because Microsoft's Internet Explorer is Windows-only, it had to lean on the third-party Opera browser to fill that hole. From now on, all Nokia X smartphones will feature Opera as the default browser.

But the choice was odd in one important way: Opera's browser uses Google, not Microsoft's Bing, as its default search engine. Searches conducted through the browser will be fed into, and will return results from, Google's engine -- not Microsoft's.

That's because Opera Software has to comply with the terms of a contract it signed with the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant. That agreement, which was last negotiated in 2012, is effective until Aug. 1, 2014.

In its press release about the Nokia X2 today, Microsoft made no mention of Google's search claiming first-position rights in Opera; nor did Opera Software say anything about it in its corresponding release. Instead, Microsoft made a sideways reference to the disconnect by noting that a separate Bing Search app is available from the Nokia app store.

Previously, Opera was pre-installed on Nokia's X platform of Android-powered smartphones -- which debuted in February -- but was not set as the default browser.

In some respects, Opera was a good choice as the Nokia X2's default, what with the Norwegian company's "Opera Turbo," a feature that routes traffic through Opera's own servers, where data is aggressively compressed before it is sent to the device. The Nokia X2's target customers -- people in developing markets where price is paramount and most mobile users get online via prepaid or pay-as-you-go plans -- are typically very sensitive to data usage and the associated fees.

Microsoft's strategy with Android relies on lower-priced handsets featuring the software vendor's own services. Both previously as well as today, the company has used the phrase "gateway to Microsoft services" to describe that strategy. In plainer English, Microsoft hopes that users of Nokia's lower-price Android smartphones will use those services -- such as Skype and OneDrive -- and then graduate to paying for premium service tiers, such as calling minutes on Skype and more storage space on OneDrive.

"Nokia X2: nice addition 2 line up, delivers apps consumers want & a hook into Microsoft ecosystem," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, on Twitter today. "Success rests on how smoothly apps run."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter, at  @gkeizer, and on Google+, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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