ZunePhones: If you build it, Microsoft will come

Rumors picked up again yesterday that Microsoft was going to launch its own smartphone when two Broadpoint.AmTech analysts said sources told them as much. Not true, according All About Microsoft’s Mary-Jo Foley, who claims that her own sources say Microsoft is developing reference implementations for some phones, but not the phones themselves. Not yet anyway.

To me, this all seems like a matter of timing. While the two analysts predicted that Microsoft may unveil its phone at the Mobile World Congress later this month in Spain, that seems pretty unlikely given that Microsoft has a bunch of mobile software it plans to show off. One piece of that software package is expected to be Windows Mobile 6.5, which appears to be a half-attempt at a next generation mobile operating system, until Windows Mobile 7 is ready sometime in 2010. To show off any new hardware — made by anyone — running on Windows Mobile 6.5 would probably be a mistake, and a letdown.

And in fact, Foley and others are saying that Microsoft’s references for mobile hardware will be based around Windows Mobile 7. And yes, it could involve the Zune brand as well (as the device’s media playing software) and possibly tie into the Xbox video game console — basically, what has become known as Microsoft’s “Pink” project.

So if Foley is correct, Microsoft seems content to give other companies the blueprints from which to build smartphones (similar to what Google does for Android phones), but doesn’t want to get into the hardware business itself. But we, like many others, continue to hear that Microsoft at least has prototypes it’s working on for its own phones. It’s possible that like Google before it, these are just units to show off what it wants to see in third-party implementations.

But it’s also possible that Microsoft is still toying with the idea of its own phone — perhaps, say, if the Pink project fails to gain momentum in the fight against Android, BlackBerry, Palm Pre and the iPhone.


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