Zune phone The latest rumours suggest that Microsoft could launch a Zune phone as early as next month, but we've heard this story before. And it's getting hard to care.

Earlier this week, tech blogger Long Zheng spotted some code in Microsoft's latest Zune software update suggesting USB driver support for three phone-related devices. Each device ID contained the words 'Zune' and 'Phone', prompting Zheng to say that "the elusive 'Zune Phone' is pretty much confirmed".

The discovery fits nicely with a prediction last week by Jefferies & Company analyst Katherine Egbert, who said Microsoft would unveil a "Zune-like phone" at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month. She offered few specifics, only that the phone would run Windows Mobile 7, have a 5Mp camera, support 720p video and include music by subscription.

Could it be great?

Now, I'm not saying the Zune Phone can't be great, if it exists. If Microsoft is working with a phone manufacturer to create a Microsoft-branded device, as Google partnered with HTC for the Nexus One, I'm sure it would have powerful hardware. Either way, we just don't know enough about Windows 7 to make that call.

But that's the point. It's not the Zune Phone that matters, it's Windows Mobile 7. If Microsoft does a great job with the operating system - and right now, we really have no idea - any phone manufacturer could come up with a winner. The Nexus One taught us this. It wasn't a revolutionary phone, but it's among the best uses of Android to date.

Still, that doesn't mean HTC, Motorola, or another manufacturer can't come up with a better phone provided they're allowed to use the latest version of Android.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has said that Windows Mobile 7 is intended for a wide range of devices ("We want to provide vendors with ability to make Windows phones up and down the price scale," he said at a conference last year), so it seems the operating system will go the path of Android, rather than Palm's WebOS or the iPhone OS.

A Zune Phone could certainly get some time in the limelight if Microsoft created it, but it wouldn't stay that way for long.

See also:

Microsoft to offer two versions of Windows Mobile 7?

Microsoft Zune Phone to rival Apple's iPhone

Google Nexus One review

All smartphone reviews

PC World