Microsoft may have scored another major smartphone partner, Japanese consumer electronics giant Sony.
According a report in The Information, Sony may be gearing up to offer a Windows Phone this year. Amir Efrati wrote on Dec. 31 that the company "whose mobile unit has exclusively made smartphones powered by Google's Android software for nearly four years, has considered launching a Windows phone as soon as mid-2014, according to a person who was involved in the talks and a person briefed about the device."
Efrati noted that the development comes in the wake of efforts by Microsoft to "attract other partners such as China-based ZT" to its smartphone operating system. In a push to expand the Windows Phone hardware ecosystem, Microsoft "has boosted incentives for potential Windows Phone handset makers, including slashing the software licensing fees it would charge them."
Despite some encouraging growth in some markets like South America, Windows Phone trails well behind Google' Android and Apple's iOS mobile platforms. Android dominated the smartphone market during the third quarter of 2013. In that quarter, Google's mobile platform accounted for 81 percent of smartphone shipments, a total of 211.6 million smartphones, according to IT market research firm IDC.
Meanwhile Microsoft, with a boost from Nokia's Lumia smartphone line, helped Windows Phone achieve year-over-year growth of 156 percent. The platform nonetheless faces a daunting challenge in narrowing the gap with Android. Windows Phone comprises less than 5 percent of the market, said IDC.
Microsoft is currently in the midst of acquiring Nokia's Devices & Services unit in a deal valued at $7.1 billion. "We are receiving incredible talent, technology and IP," said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in a statement announcing the buy. "We've all seen the amazing work that Nokia and Microsoft have done together," he added. The companies expect the deal to close in the first quarter of 2014.
The Verge's Chris Welch, noted that the software giant's "takeover of Nokia's devices unit seemingly hasn't given Sony any second thoughts; talks have continued even after the acquisition was first announced." And it wouldn't be the first time the companies have teamed up to offer products. "A mobile alliance wouldn't be altogether new for the pair, and older prototypes reveal that Sony has previously considered embracing Windows Phone."
Even so, there is no guarantee of a Sony-branded Windows Phone. Welch added that "plans could come undone if Microsoft and Sony disagree over licensing fees, preloaded software and other topics."
Sony's smartphone portfolio includes the Android-powered, water-resistant Xperia Z. The sleek handheld, operating while submerged in water, as Wayne Rash's examination of the device for eWEEK shows, is also notable for a screen that bests Apple's impressive Retina display and its typically expert Sony craftsmanship. The T-Mobile exclusive also features a 13-megapixel camera, Near-Field Communication (NFC) support and concealed connectors.