First it built the Surface, and now Microsoft is said to be working on another new hardware product, this time a smartphone. That’s according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, which says Microsoft is currently working with Asian component suppliers on its own handset design, though it isn’t yet clear whether or not the device will ever go into mass production.
Details about what a Microsoft smartphone would look like are scarce, but the report does say that the version being currently tested has a screen between four and five inches, which is in keeping with recent designs from Apple and Android handset OEMs. It’s also probably pretty reasonable to assume that any device Microsoft puts out now will have more in common with the flagship phones from its hardware partners for Windows Phone 8, which include Nokia and HTC, than with its previous Kin smartphones. The teen-focused Kin carried Microsoft’s branding, but was made by Sharp, and lasted only 48 days on the market.
Microsoft had made a more dedicated approach to creating its own hardware with the Surface, albeit to mixed reviews. And as the WSJ reports, it’s also been more aggressive about enforcing hardware standards with its partners in recent years, both in terms of the look and makeup of Windows-certified PCs and in minimum specs for partner mobile handsets. That Microsoft could be considering an approach like Apple’s, wherein it would sell both hardware and software and control all aspects of the ecosystem, definitely seems more plausible than it has in the past.
Also, rumors have been building that Microsoft is working on a smartphone since back in June, thanks to Nomura analyst Rick Sherlund, who said that Microsoft was already working with a “contract manufacturer” to create their own Windows Phone 8 mobile device. Then at the beginning of October, Boy Genius Report received a tip that Microsoft was indeed working on its own smartphone, that would sell alongside and compete with partner OEM devices like the HTC 8X and Nokia Lumia 920. The company has shown it’s willing to go there with the Surface, and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop even said on a conference call two weeks ago that a Microsoft-made device would be a boost to the entire Windows Phone 8 device sales ecosystem.
Even if it didn’t become a top seller in and of itself, a Microsoft-branded smartphone could offer Windows Phone what the Nexus line provides Android: a place to show off the latest and greatest software, experiment and build hype around the platform. I think the biggest risk would be in potentially alienating hardware partners, but so far the Surface doesn’t seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of Windows PC OEMs all that much, and Elop has already declared his support. If nothing else, a Microsoft-made Windows Phone 8 smartphone would be interesting, and generating interest is maybe the key ingredient to Microsoft’s future mobile success.