New devices will be targeted at the Indian, Middle Easter, and Southeast Asian developing markets

Founded in 2009 in Bangalore, India, Karbonn Mobiles is a company to keep an eye on.  While a relative unknown to the American market, the company shipped nearly 7 million phones in Q4 2013 according to the Interactive Data Corp. (IDC). As a result, it is vying with companies like Lava Mobiles for the title of top producer in India's fast-growing smartphone market.

I. Dual Boot Could be Karbonn's Secret Weapon

To date Karbonn Mobiles' offerings have been -- to be generous -- "inspired" by rivals such as South Korea's Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KRX:005930) (KRX:005935)

In fact, Karbonn's top selling line of Android smartphones are even named the "Titanium S Series" with models such as last year's "Titanium S4" and the "Titanium S5 Plus", which launched a couple of months ago.  These phones borrow liberally from Samsung's design playbook, right down to the silver plastic faux-chrome edges and subtly rounded top and bottom faces.

Titanium S Series

But Karbonn Mobiles is on the verge of offering perhaps its first truly innovative contribution to the smartphone space with the upcoming release of a handset that dual-boots Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android OS and Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows Phone.

The idea of a dual booting phone is not that outlandish.  After all, at its heart Windows Phone shares a certain amount of code commonality with Windows RT, and Android OS is based on a Linux kernel.  On the desktop, Windows and Linux have been happily dual-booting for decades now. 

ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357) launched a tablet-desktop convertible ("desktoplet"), dubbed the Transformer AiO.  Android dual-boot tablet/laptop hybrids have also been teased at.  Last year Samsung announced an upcoming device dubbed the Ativ Q that could switch modes, but that device was reportedly dropped under pressure from Google.  Likewise, ASUS teased at a dual-boot Android/Windows 8.1 tablet/notebook convertible dubbed the "Transformer Duet" (TD300) at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, but a report from China's The Economic Daily News suggests ASUS has delayed the device's launch from the expected Q2 2014 window.

The Ativ Q reports suggested that patents on virtual OS implementations might be the root issue, while the latter report on the Transformer Duet delay suggests ASUS was pressured by Google to hold off on the idea if it wanted the Nexus 8 contract.

To date, the closest we've come to seeing Windows Phone and Android coexisting on the phone is perhaps Nokia Oyj.'s (HEX:NOK1V) forked reskin of Android which resembles Windows Phone.

II. Micorosft Loosens up on Windows Phone Restrictions

As for a true dual-boot Windows Phone-cum-Android, that will be a fresh, if expected development.

Comments Karbonn Mobile chairman Sudhir Hasija to The Times of India:

Microsoft has eased the regulations and is opening up its platform for other players. We signed the agreement two days ago and will launch a range of Windows Phones in about three months.

While the first Karbonn Windows Phones will launch in about three months (likely June), the report quotes Mr. Hasija as estimating the dual-boot devices will land in about 6 months (September).

The key development allowing the new dual-boot strategy was Microsoft relaxing its stand on soft buttons.  Most budget Android devices lacked physical buttons, but even on the low end Microsoft insisted on hardware buttons including a "Windows" styled button (home).

Windows Phone 8.1
Windows Phone 8.1 features new soft buttons. [Image Source: Reddit]

But with Windows Phone 8.1 budget phonemakers will finally get access to soft buttons, which will allow not only cheaper devices, but also less of a confusing switch between Windows and Android's navigation butons for those considering dual-boot devices.  It also sounds like Microsoft relented on a rumored explicit contractual ban on OEM dual-boot devices on ARM processors.

In addition to India, the new dual-boot Karbonn devices are expected to sell in neighboring markets such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East.  There are no announced plans at present for a U.S. launch.

Karbonn and its local rival Lava were among the nine new Windows Phone commitments Microsoft announced at the 2014 Mobile World Congress (MWC) last month.  While the signing was overshadowed by heavy hitters like the Hong Kong-based Lenovo Group, Ltd. (HKG: 0992), both companies could prove a boon to Windows Phone's overall global marketshare, which was just shy of 4 percent in 2013.

IDC Group
According to top market research house IDC, Karbonn moved roughly 6.8 million smartphones in the Southeast Asian (which includes India, but not China) market in Q4 2013, while LAVA shipped 4.0 million units.  The pair are in third and fourth place, respectively, in the region behind only second place Micromax, Ltd. (another Indian OEM) and regional leader Samsung.

Source: The Times of India

"Folks that want porn can buy an Android phone." -- Steve Jobs

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