Reports that Microsoft could launch its own Surface smartphone next year have surfaced again, leading some tech experts to ask: "Why, pray tell, why?"
The latest round of speculation began Monday when the China Times reported Microsoft will launch its own smartphone under the Surface brand during the first half of 2013.
In addition, BGR cited a trusted source indicating that Microsoft plans to release its own Windows Phone 8 smartphone in the coming months.
Microsoft officials in the past six months have denied working on a Microsoft-branded smartphone. The denials came even as the company took heat for building its own Surface-branded tablets, which compete with Microsoft's third-party manufacturing partners building Windows 8 tablets.
A Microsoft spokeswoman, in a statement to Computerworld on Thursday, said the company remains committed to its Windows Phone 8 partners, but did not explicitly rule out a Surface smartphone.
"We are big believers in our hardware partners and together we're focused on bringing Windows Phone 8 to market with them," the statement said.
Samsung, HTC and Nokia have all announced Windows Phone 8 smartphones for release this fall.
Given the friction a Microsoft-built smartphone might cause, the company may be worried that its smartphone partners cannot build a Windows Phone successful enough to take on Android devices or the iPhone, some analysts speculated.
Or Microsoft may simply hope to "kick-start the market" for Windows Phone devices, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. According to research firm IDC, Windows Phone has about 5% of the global market for smartphones, based on sales of Windows Phone 7 and 7.5 and earlier phones on Windows Mobile.
For Microsoft to build and sell a Surface smartphone "makes no sense," Gold said. "If the relationship with Nokia is that troubled that Microsoft needs to do its its own phone, it says that Windows Phone 8 is in trouble even before it launches."
Calling Microsoft's sales of the KIN phone a "disaster," Gold added, "I can't see Microsoft in the phone business being successful. If these stories are true, it may also say that Microsoft has no confidence Nokia, Samsung or HTC can make the Windows Phone successful on their own."
Even if Microsoft is only trying to kickstart the market with a Surface phone "that still sends the wrong message to the market," Gold said. "I'd be shocked to see Microsoft get into the phone business, given all the negative ramifications of doing so. But Microsoft has made missteps before."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.