Earlier this summer, rumors swirled that Microsoft was going to make its own Windows Phones and maybe even market them under its Surface brand. This week, that rumor is back, thanks to China Times and now Boy Genius Report.
Why does this rumor keep recurring? It's either because it's true, or because Microsoft's top brass won't, once and for all, quash it if it's not. And that leaves the door wide open for speculation.
When rumors first surfaced (pun intended) that Microsoft might make its own Surface Windows Phone, Microsoft fueled the fires with its own open-ended tagline. The Surface product family was described by Microsoft earlier this year as "Microsoft-made hardware to be available starting with release of Windows 8 and Windows RT." Does that mean there will be Surface-branded keyboards, trackpads, mice, and so on? Does it mean there will be Surface-branded Windows Phones? I asked. Shockingly (not), I got a no comment.
A month or so later, CRN asked Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in a sit-down interview if Microsoft would make its own smartphone. Ballmer evaded the question, failing to provide a firm yes or no. From CRN's report:
"When asked if Microsoft might make its own smartphone, Ballmer paused and then replied: 'Right now we are working real hard on the Surface. That's the focus. That's our core. Look, we'll see what happens. We have good partners with Nokia, HTC in the phone space. I love what we've got going on with the Surface. We are going to focus on Surface and our other Windows 8 tablet partners and see if we can go make something happen.'"
Hmm. "We'll see what happens." Not exactly a denial.
Shortly after that interview ran, I asked Microsoft whether Ballmer's comments signified a change in Microsoft's previous position that Windows Phones would come from OEMs only, and not from Microsoft itself. I received a nonanswer from a company representative. The official statement:
"We are big believers in our hardware partners, and together we're focused on bringing Windows Phone 8 to market with them."
I asked the Windows Phone team again yesterday, October 1, if Microsoft would confirm or deny new rumors that it intends to make its own Windows Phone. I received the exact same statement about partner love as above.
If Microsoft has no plans to make its own Windows Phones, why won't someone just plainly say this? If Microsoft is simply building new reference designs, why not let folks know that's what's happening and move on?
Leaving the door open with evasive nonanswers is likely to hurt Microsoft's premier Windows Phone partner, Nokia, as WPCentral pointed out in a good post on the ongoing Microsoft phone rumors. After all, Nokia is the only one of the five remaining Windows Phone partners that is all-in with Windows Phone. Nokia's phones are, for all intents and purposes, Microsoft's Windows Phones.
In the case of the Surface PC/tablets, Microsoft decided to burn OEM bridges by coming out with its own Microsoft-made and -branded devices allegedly (and believably) because the company was unhappy with its OEMs' designs. But in the case of Windows Phone, Nokia, HTC, and Samsung have all shown off Windows Phone 8 models that look very appealing.
Unless Microsoft is just working on some Windows Phone designs of its own as a last-ditch effort -- in case its partners can't get it beyond its current 3 percent market share -- I'm not quite sure why the Redmondians would go the Surface Windows Phone route.
Any guesses/thoughts out there as to what's happening on the inside? After the Kin mess, I'd kind of think Microsoft would stay out of the phone space. But desperate times may call for desperate measures....
Update: Now WPCentral is also reporting that it believes Microsoft is working on its own Windows Phone. I have to say I doubt that Nokia preferring to brand its phones as "Lumia" rather than "Windows Phone Lumia" seems highly unlikely to be a reason behind rumored Microsoft dissatisfaction with its partner, as that site claims... it's definitely a very flimsy reason for the Softies to be working to deliver their own phones. Nokia's fiscal health would be a far more believable reason, in my opinion.
If Microsoft does end up launching a Microsoft-designed and -branded Windows Phone, it'll be safe to say the Redmondians have reversed course and admitted Apple's end-to-end design/manufacturing/distribution model is the new way forward.
This story originally appeared at ZDNet's Between the Lines under the headline "Microsoft to make its own Windows Phone: On the rumor that keeps resurfacing."