Microsoft on Sunday announced a stunning and unexpected expansion of Windows Phone OS licensing. In addition to HTC, Huawei, Nokia and Samsung, Microsoft has announced it is now working with nine addition firms to deliver Windows Phone handsets: Foxconn, Gionee, Lava (Xolo), Lenovo, LG, Longcheer, JSR, Karbonn and ZTE. It also provided a few details about an upcoming Windows Phone software update.
In case it's not immediately obvious, many of those new firms are Chinese or directly serve the Chinese market, which is the largest market for smart phones in the world. Others are focused on other major markets like India, too. According to Microsoft, it is now working with seven of the top 10 smartphone manufacturers in the world.
For the US and Western Europe, the two biggest names there are Lenovo and LG. The latter firm actually started out with Windows Phone back in 2010, but dropped out of the market. (I had thought ZTE was already signed up, too, but whatever.) I am particularly excited by the prospect of a Lenovo Windows Phone handset, though it's not clear which if any of these firms intends to target the United States.
Aside from the partner news, Microsoft also provide a few other tidbits about Windows Phone changes that are coming soon.
Windows Phone enterprise pack. Remember the promised Windows Phone 8 enterprise pack? It's still coming. It may simply be part of Windows Phone 8.1, that's unclear.
New hardware support. Windows Phone 8.x will support Snapdragon 200 and 400 series chipsets.
Cellular support. Windows Phone will now support all major cellular technologies, including LTE (TDD/FDD), HSPA+, EVDO and TD-SCMA.
Soft buttons are real. You may have seen rumors about software versions ("soft keys") of the Back, Start and Search hardware buttons. That's coming, and it's up to the hardware makers to choose which they prefer to use in their own devices.
Dual SIMs. Hardware makers will be able to ship Windows Phone handsets with dual SIM capabilities.
Facebook Messenger app. Windows Phone will support Facebook Messenger.
More apps. There are now over 245,000 apps in the Windows Phone Store.
Windows Hardware Partner Portal. A new portal will help Microsoft's partners get direct access to the tools and content they need to build and market their Windows Phone devices efficiently and cost-effectively.
Presumably there will be more information about Windows Phone 8.1 at BUILD in early April.