Microsoft Zune phone on the horizon?

One analyst cites "industry checks" in predicting the launch of a Microsoft-backed and -branded handset in February or March.

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    Insert Zune phone here? Microsoft rolled out the Zune HD last September, and at least one analyst thinks the company could be prepping a phone cousin as well.
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Not one to be left in the cold, could Microsoft be readying a flagship phone of its own?

Like Google did, countering Motorola's Droid buzz with the Nexus One, Microsoft looks to be planning a home-cooked handset of its own.

"Our recent industry checks indicate Microsoft will be debuting its own phone sometime in the next two months,” Jeffries and Company analyst Lisa Egbert wrote in a note to clients. “We expect the new phone to debut soon, at either the Feb 15-18 Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona Spain, or possibly at CTIA in Las Vegas one month later.”

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The note, pointed out by All Things Digital's John Paczkowski, said to expect a "Zune-like" phone that incorporates 720p video playback, a five megapixel camera, and some brand of music store. Also, expect the phone to grow from a partnership similar to the one that produced the Nexus One – where HTC manufactured it to Google's specs, and with Google branding. But we're guessing – and we're ready to be proven wrong – that the device won't hang onto the less-than-successful branding of its personal media-player cousin, the Zune HD.

Why would Microsoft go with a top-to-bottom, hardware and software approach to a phone, when up till now it has been content offering its Windows Mobile to other device makers? Business Insider's Jay Yarow offered four reasons, but this one makes the most sense to us:

The only way to deliver the experience Microsoft wants is to do it itself. As Apple, RIM, and Palm have shown, there's an extra element of quality when one company develops a gadget's hardware and software.

We could add Google to that list, but its recent struggles with customer service and call quality have the jury still out on the Nexus One's success.

The other uncertainty is whether any "Zune phone" would use a flavor of Windows Mobile 7, or venture out on its own with another, custom interface. Ars Technica's rumor round-up focuses on Windows Mobile, but includes a nod to a "media version":

The media version, which is apparently set to arrive in 2011, will feature HD video, a Zune-like music player, and streaming media, as well as Silverlight, Mediaroom, XBox Live (possibly gameplay), Facebook and Twitter interfaces (similar to Xbox), and Zune Music integration.

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What's your take? Will Microsoft jump on the phone bandwagon with Apple and Google? Would you buy a "Zune phone"? Leave a comment and catch up with us on Twitter.

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