Nokia's Elop on selling an Android phone that's not an Android phone

In an interview with CNET, Stephen Elop weighs in on the marketing strategy for the Nokia X family of phones, teases the next Lumia, and shares his thoughts on wearables.

Nokia's Stephen Elop with the Nokia X. Sarah Tew/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain -- Nokia will have to walk a fine line when it comes to selling its recently unveiled Nokia X family of smartphones.

While Nokia X and its brethren will run on Android, they are far from Android phones. That could lead to customer confusion as the company has largely focused on Microsoft's Windows Phone operating for its primary line of smartphones, and its older Symbian operating system for its Asha line of starter smartphones.

"We're going to have to be deliberate," said Stephen Elop, head of devices for Nokia, in an interview with CNET on Monday.

Nokia won't market the Nokia X as an Android phone. Instead, it will be positioned as simply "an affordable phone." While Nokia X uses Android, there is little trace of the operating system with the user interface designed with tiles that mimic the classic Windows Phone feel. The company, however, will tout the Nokia X's ability to run an Android app.

Strategically, Elop said he sees the Nokia X attacking the sub-$100 market. The phones are a little above that now, with the Nokia X retailing for 89 unlocked ($122.30). He noted that the market there is growing four times faster than the rest of the market, particularly at the high end where growth has slowed almost completely.

Elop said that he will continue to drive the price of its Lumia smartphones down, but added he sees the price of the Nokia X phones going down as well. Nokia X will continue to sit at that tier right below Lumia phones.

At least in the more developed market, there will be less chance of confusion, with the focus primarily on Lumia. Nokia confirmed it has no plans to sell Nokia X in the US.

With Microsoft potentially weeks away from closing the acquisition of Nokia devices business, Elop wasn't able to say too much. He declined to comment on whether the Lumia name will continue to be used after the acquisition, only noting that it would no longer be able to call them Nokia devices.

CNET's full coverage of Mobile World Congress

While today's event was primarily focused on the lower end market with Nokia X, an Asha phone and a basic phone, Elop did offer up a tease for the next Lumia (or otherwise named smartphone), saying that anyone interested in its next high-end smartphone should tune in to Microsoft's Build conference in April.

Nokia's announcements at Mobile World Congress build upon the success it has had in the lower end of the market with budget phones. But the company continues to struggle with higher profile devices. Despite the critical praise of phones such as the Lumia 1020 and the Lumia 900 line, as well as a marketing push from partners such as AT&T and Microsoft, adoption has been limited, particularly in the US.

The Nokia XL. Sarah Tew/CNET

Elop said his goal was to continue to push to expand the app ecosystem for Nokia and Windows Phone. In addition, he wanted to put more of an effort into educating consumers about some of the apps that are now available, including Instagram, and the recently announced addition of BlackBerry's BBM, Vine and Plants vs. Zombies 2. He noted that the "legend remains" that Windows Phone was lacking in certain popular apps that have actually found their way on to the platform.

There is also the fight to get people to give Windows Phone a try in the first place. Elop said that customers that try the Lumia 1520 report a willingness to recommend the device. But the trick is getting them in the door.

He acknowledged Nokia still needed to work on introducing Windows Phone to consumers.

"It's about marketing and store-to-store combat," he said.

One thing Nokia has stayed out of is wearable tech, a big trend at this year's show with seemingly every company involved in a smartwatch or glasses. Elop said that it makes sense that an expanding digital life would demand a consistent experience across multiple devices. When Elop rejoins Microsoft, he will be in charge of devices for the company, which could range beyond smartphones and tablets.

Elop wouldn't say much on wearables, but conceded he thought about all of his options.

 

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