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[Follow-up: Report: Microsoft is not making its own Windows Phone]

Earlier this week, Microsoft jumped into the computer hardware business, announcing plans to make its own Surface tablet computer.

Now, following the unveiling of Windows Phone 8 yesterday, a longtime Wall Street analyst says Microsoft could be laying the groundwork to make a similar move with Windows Phone.

In a note to clients this morning about the latest Windows Phone changes, analyst Rick Sherlund of Nomura Capital writes, “Separately, our industry sources tell us that Microsoft may be working with a contract manufacturer to develop their own handset for Windows Phone 8.”

He continues, “It is unclear to us whether this would be a reference platform or whether this may be a go-to market Microsoft branded handset. We would not be surprised if Microsoft were to decide to bring their own handset to market next year given that Microsoft has decided to bring to market their own Windows 8 ‘Surface’ tablet/PC products.”

We’ve asked Microsoft if it wants to comment. Sherlund has covered the company since it went public, previously as an analyst for Goldman Sachs, and he has a knack for picking up on clues about the company’s strategic moves.

So far, at least, Microsoft has used the same strategy in the phone business as it has in the computer business, focusing on the operating system and leaving the hardware to a variety of partners.

There is one huge difference between Microsoft’s position in the mobile phone market and in personal computers, and that’s market share. Microsoft is in a position to risk stepping on the toes of its hardware vendors with the Surface tablet because Windows is still the accepted standard for many businesses and consumers.

But Windows Phone is in a very different position, as a major underdog to iOS and Android, and Microsoft needs all the support it can get from handset makers to make a dent in the market.

So file this under speculation for now, but with Microsoft these days, you never know.

Update: Microsoft issued this statement in response to our inquiry. “We are big believers in our hardware partners and together we’re focused on bringing Windows Phone 8 to market this year.”

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