Lumia-less Nokia might have new smartphones in 2016

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Don't call it a comeback! Nokia is reportedly planning a return to the mobile phone business by 2016.

Okay, it's a comeback. But Nokia's future mobile efforts reportedly won't look anything like its original business. This time around, Nokia plans to develop products in-house but then license the designs and the company's brand name to a manufacturer, according to Re/code's Ina Fried.

The only thing holding the company back right now is an agreement with Microsoft stemming from the Windows maker's purchase of Nokia's devices and services business in 2013. Under that contract, Nokia is barred from licensing its brand on smartphones until the end of 2016. Nokia can't touch feature phones for nearly a decade as Microsoft retains the right to use the Nokia brand on dumb phones.

Not wanting to waste time waiting for 2016 to roll around, Fried reports that Nokia is already developing products so it can hit the ground running once its commitments to Microsoft expire.

The story behind the story: This latest report on Nokia's post-Lumia mobile ambitions echoes similar reports from late 2014. At that time, Ramzi Haidamus, president of Nokia Technologies, said the company planned to develop new products and technologies and license them to other companies. Haidamus didn't discount the idea that Nokia could also produce products and market them directly to consumers.

What are we going to see?

Assuming Nokia does emerge with new products in licensed or directly marketed form, what software will those products be running? Windows is likely out as Nokia has already tried that game and failed. The company also developed its own modern smartphone platform, called MeeGo, and that also failed—although in the case of MeeGo it failed because the company switched to exclusively producing Windows Phone devices just as MeeGo was ready for prime time.

It's unlikely that Nokia will try to develop its own platform again, which leaves really only two choices: Android or Tizen. The argument against Nokia developing Android devices is that the market for Google's platform is already saturated and Nokia wouldn't be able to differentiate its products as easily.

That was an argument for the old Nokia, however. If Nokia decides to license its products then the marketing burden is on the third-party manufacturer. As a designer, Android and its fully developed platform would be an attractive target for development.

In fact, Nokia has already released an Android device with the N1 tablet introduced in November. That slate was created in partnership with mobile device manufacturer Foxconn.

Tizen is also a possibility, but Nokia may not want commit to a platform that is so closely associated with Samsung.

Beyond phones, Fried says Nokia may also be cooking up some virtual reality products. At this rate, Nokia's VR may even show up before we see the consumer version of the Oculus Rift.

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