Microsoft's impending acquisition of Nokia's smartphone unit has led to questions whether the company would be able to work with third-party hardware manufacturers, but those concerns were alleviated today as the company announced nine new hardware partners, including LG and Lenovo.
As part of Microsoft's efforts to expand into new markets, it's partnering with Foxconn, Gionee, Lava (Xolo), Lenovo, LG, Longcheer, JSR, Karbonn and ZTE as new Windows Phone hardware manufacturers. These companies join HTC, Huawei, Nokia and Samsung, which Microsoft claims gives it "seven of the top 10 smartphone manufacturers in the world" as partners based on IDC sales figures.
LG's addition as a hardware partner notably comes after the company made Windows Phone 7 devices but declined to be involved in Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 plans. The news also notably comes a year after LG said it had no plans to return as a Windows Phone hardware partner.
In addition to the new hardware partners, Microsoft announced it will support Qualcomm's Snapdragon 200 and 400 processors, allowing hardware manufacturers to create smartphones for a broader array of consumers. Additionally, Microsoft confirmed it will add support for soft keys – virtual buttons instead of the traditional hardware buttons currently found on Windows Phone devices – as well as dual SIM ports. The move allows Microsoft to leverage its platform in emerging markets, as soft keys help lower prices and dual SIM ports allow phones to be shared or used on different service providers.
Soft keys and dual SIM support have long been rumored as part of Microsoft's Windows Phone 8.1 update, though the company didn't officially confirm its existence, just that an update will be released this spring for the smartphone operating system. Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to be announced and released within the next few months.