It's looking increasingly likely that Nokia will in fact release an Android phone. This morning, The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported  that the phone would come out this month.
Unlike previous reports  about a Nokia Android phone, this one suggests that Microsoft has blessed the move. It has been unclear previously whether Microsoft would kill the effort once its acquisition of Nokia is complete.
The Journal presents the Android phone as part of a new strategy at Microsoft to use Android to target the low end and Windows Phone to chase the high-end market.
Releasing an Android phone will require Microsoft to swallow some pride but it might make sense.
The presumption is that the Nokia Android phone would run Microsoft and Nokia services, like Bing, Office, and Nokia's Here mapping service. That follows the same model adopted by Amazon, which uses Android on its Kindle but without the many Google services that Google adds to approved Android devices.
Peter Bright at Ars Technica argued  over the weekend that forking Android that way wouldn't work for Microsoft. Essentially, the "open" forkable part of Android is a low-level layer with a few basic services and some UI elements. Most of the available apps for Android take advantage of Google services and APIs linking to those services -- which Google controls tightly. For a forked version of Android to offer equivalency to developers, Microsoft would have to do a ton of work creating a layer that links to its own services rather than Google's services, then developers would have to create new versions of apps that use this Microsoft layer. With that amount of work, why not just keep the platform they've already built?
Yet, Amazon and a fair number of others have realized the benefits of using a forked version. In the fourth quarter last year, 25 percent of Android phones that shipped were forked versions, according to ABI Research.
As Ben Thompson at Stratechery argues , it may be easier for a company like Microsoft to work around the roadblocks Google builds than to get developers to build apps from scratch for an OS that rates a distant third in market share. Microsoft has been at the problem for more than three years now, and still Windows Phone has less than 5% market share in most markets . Why not try using Android as a way to offer end users its huge app catalog while integrating Microsoft's own services?
The Journal is reporting that Nokia plans to show off the new phone at Mobile World Congress, which starts on Feb. 24. Its reception may help determine Microsoft's ending direction in this argument.