A different breed of Android: How Google's OS was reworked for the Nokia X

Nokia X seems to bring the best of two worlds: Android running on a Nokia. That’s the dream right? But the reality is different. Your Android apps may not work the same way on the Nokia X and the reason is that it's not the Android you and I have come to know.


To understand just how Android runs on the Nokia X, we need to look at what Android has become since its early days. Android, today, is no longer the Android we first saw in 2008. Obviously, the look and feel has changed greatly as with any operating system, but it's not just that. It started out as fully open source or the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) but Google appropriated parts of the OS over the years to concentrate its development efforts. These include crucial bits such as the Location services suite, Google Cloud Notifications, Play Services (which helps push updates to all core Google apps as well as enables the Play content ecosystem), and many core apps including calendar, browser (now known as Chrome), the keyboard, and now with Android 4.4 KitKat, even the launcher, which is part of the Google Now app.


These are the closed source parts of Android and they are a world apart from their open source counterparts. The AOSP Calendar and the Google Calendar app have different icons too. So over the years, Google has wrested control of what we know as stock Android, which can be called mainstream Android. Anyone who has dabbled in custom ROMs would know by now the need for a Google Apps or Gapps file besides the actual ROM. This is the part that Google has maintained a tight grip over.


Nokia X runs AOSP, but just like Google adds bits and pieces on top of it to tie users in to its own services on the mainstream Android platform, Nokia and Microsoft will work together to add a layer of its own services on top of AOSP. So the Location services will be taken care of by Nokia Here Maps, cloud storage by Microsoft OneDrive, email, calendar and contact management by Outlook and IMs through Skype. We imagine Xbox sign in will show up sometime in the future. These are the bits that will replace the Google services in the Nokia X.


As for app support, users can sideload apps on the Nokia X like on any Android device. In addition, Nokia claims the Nokia Store will have hundreds of thousands of apps for Android and there are third-party app stores for the Nokia X as well. As for Android apps that you have been using, they won’t work as advertised on the Nokia X, as developers will need to make changes to the code to make it work with Microsoft and Nokia’s services rather than Google. Nokia says it won’t require more than two hours of work to make any Android app Nokia-X compliant. The question is whether developers will indeed want to put in that effort and maintain development pace for yet another platform, an unproven one at that.

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