Here’s why Nokia’s version of Android looks just like Windows Phone

More details leaked online about Nokia’s(s nok) Normandy handset, a reported Android(s goog) phone the company is working on. A pair of home screen images appeared on Thursday, courtesy of the well-connected @evleaks. You’d be hard pressed to see anything remotely looking like Android though. The user interface is far more reminiscent of Windows Phone(s msft).

After seeing these images, I’m more convinced than ever that Normandy will effectively become the basis of a replacement for Nokia’s Asha phone line. The company currently sells several Asha models that use the aging S40 platform and was part of the deal when Microsoft bought Nokia’s devices and services business last year for $7.2 billion.

While Microsoft’s BUILD developer event is still more than two months away, it’s anticipated that the company will further merge Windows Phone with Windows RT. And even more of the developer tools, APIs and services are expected to support both these and Windows 8.1 together. To me that means Microsoft is scaling Windows Phone up and if that is indeed the case, the platform may be too much for hardware that’s typically in the Asha lineup.

If so, Microsoft needs a platform that can run low-cost handsets where it can develop and cultivate a place for its software and services. The S40 platform isn’t it. Android, however, can be if Microsoft is willing to invest in it.

Based on what we’re seeing from the Normandy, I think the company is willing. And why not when it would then have greater access to billions who either can’t afford a high-end Windows Phone or live in areas where network infrastructure is still maturing?

If I’m right, I’d peg the “new” Asha news in early April at BUILD. When Microsoft speaks about platform strategies there, the time is perfect to introduce the new Android phones that will get Microsoft apps and services into low-cost phones around the globe. And if done correctly, Microsoft will have a chance to convert those Asha users into full-fledged Windows Phone buyers in the future.

I could be wrong, of course, but others are starting to think along similar lines. Noted Microsoft watcher, Mary Jo Foley shared similar thoughts on Thursday afternoon.