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Back in September, we heard that Nokia had been pursuing an Android-powered smartphone prior to Microsoft’s moves to acquire the company. This was noteworthy mainly because Nokia is one of the most prolific maker of devices built on the Windows Mobile operating system. But now images of that phone—codenamed Normandy—have hit the web, and there’s speculation that the device may appear on shelves before Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia is finished…and possibly even after the buyout is complete.

According to a post on the Verge from yesterday, employees currently working within Nokia have informed the site that “the device is planned as a 2014 release, and one insider described the Normandy effort as ‘full steam ahead.’” But it’s not quite as simple as that: the phone may feature the Android operating system, but the post says that it’ll feature a “special ‘forked’ variant of Android that’s not aligned with Google’s own version, akin to what Amazon does with its Kindle Fire line.”

For anyone who’s used a Kindle Fire, you’ll know that the user interface deviates pretty heavily from standard Android UIs that are found on more traditional tablets and smart-devices. And a follow-up on the story over on AllThingsD elaborates further: not only would the Normandy feature a customized version of Android, but a Nokia insider tells the site that “the software has a look more similar to Windows Phone” and that “Normandy would also serve as a way to deliver Microsoft services such as Bing or Skype.” That last bit, says the post, is one major factor that could lead Microsoft to support the release of the Android-powered Normandy after the acquisition is complete.

To me, that makes a ton of sense. Android and iOS share the top spot for largest share in the mobile operating system market, while Windows Phone has been languishing near the bottom for some time. Releasing a smartphone that runs Android and all its apps—but still utilizes Microsoft’s Bing, Skype, and Skydrive services—would be a great Trojan Horse to getting more users to take advantage of its other services. Amazon has proven that it can keep users within its own ecosystem relatively easily with its forked version of the Android OS. I see no reason why Microsoft couldn’t benefit from the same trick.

Moreover, when it’s time for Normandy users to upgrade, the Windows-styled interface may have already prepared them for a full on Windows Phone, and by then it’s likely that whatever shortcomings the OS possesses compared with that of Android may have been worked out.

In the end, however, Microsoft may still opt to kill the project—that is, if Nokia doesn’t push it out the door before the acquisition process is complete. Stay tuned.

[Image via @evleaks]

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