Microsoft is adamant: it has no plans to make its own Windows Phones, and anything to the contrary is baseless speculation. The Surface tablet announcement had hardly crossed the wire before rumors of a home-grown smartphone began to proliferate, culminating in a clear denial of any “going it alone” intentions earlier on Monday. Have no doubt, though: Microsoft may be denying own-brand Windows Phones today, but that’s not to say it won’t announce them tomorrow.
Let’s not forget, this is the same Microsoft that roundly denied any phone plans whatsoever… until it revealed KIN. The teen-centric handsets may not have been sales successes, but they nonetheless confirmed the dirty little secret in the tech PR game: that any denial, no matter how earnest sounding at the time, is usually only valid until the end of the day.
Surface is a misdirection, if you’re using it as evidence that Microsoft is planning a more aggressive attack on the hardware market. If the rumors are true then only WiFi Surface models are on the cards to begin with; no tricky carrier negotiations to deal with, no awkward positioning rivalries with cellularly-enabled iPads to confuse store shelves.
Microsoft will do what Microsoft believes it needs to do to make Windows Phone a success, even if it means throwing OEM partners under the bus to achieve it. So far it has a strong, easily moulded brand already in the smartphone ecosystem in the shape of Nokia, a company now so dependent on Windows Phone that it, more than even Microsoft itself, is primarily reliant on the platform becoming a sales success for its future. If Windows Phone stalls, Microsoft will find itself without a foothold in the smartphone space; for Nokia, meanwhile, it’s game over.
Whether that makes a Nokia buy-out more likely is the stuff of endless rumination. There are compelling arguments either way – greater control and an existing manufacturing base on the positive; responsibility for what’s clearly a struggling company, and the risk of alienating other OEMs currently onboard on the negative – and, if Surface really is the tell, then we’ll need to see how Microsoft reacts to the Windows market to get an understanding of its longer-term intentions. Opinion is split as to whether Surface is a short-lived motivator to spur OEMs into imaginative action or a longer-term commitment to own-brand hardware.
Nonetheless, while the denials may come thick, fast and obstinate today, be under no illusion: all that could change in an instant if Microsoft’s soothsayers decide the company’s fortunes are better served with an in-house product.