Updated: Shifting Sands In Mobile Could Be A Boost For Microsoft And WP7

Tom noted the other day how the two big news stories that bookended last week — Google (NSDQ: GOOG) buying Motorola (NYSE: MMI), and HP (NYSE: HPQ) canning its mobile strategy — could prove to be a boost to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and its Windows Phone OS. Now, there are reports emerging of handset makers HTC and INQ among those either launching or considering new devices on the platform.

INQ, the handset maker owned by Hutchison Whampoa, says that it is now weighing up the idea of developing devices using Windows Phone 7:

“We see a number of major vendors very seriously considering Windows Mobile as a core platform and therefore we are following their lead and examining it as well to complement our work in Android to date,” the company’s CEO, Frank Meehan, told GigaOm.

Although some of his reasoning could have to do with the worry that INQ will find it hard to compete against Google developing its own Android devices, it appears from the interview that it’s mostly because of licensing costs associated with Android. In contrast, he noted, “The advantages with Windows Mobile is that the legal issues and resulting costs seem to be much less.”

It would be interesting to see what INQ could do with the WP platform: it has been something of a trailblazer in the mobile world. INQ was one of the handset makers to include direct links to both Skype and Facebook on its devices: the Skype link first appeared on a BREW-based feature phone several years ago, while the Facebook links were on two of INQ’s Android devices.

To date, although INQ has won accolades for its innovations, none of its devices have been blockbusters from a sales point of view.

Still, it could be indicative of what other Android licensees might be planning ahead, and points to growing questions over whether free licenses are really all that cheap.

HTC, meanwhile, is planning an event on September 1 in London in which it promises to show “What’s next”. This is not a closed media event: HTC posted the invite on its UK Facebook page, so in theory, anyone can attend.

While HTC has not specified what the event is for, it is widely believed that it is being planned to showcase the company’s first phone using “Mango,” the newest iteration of the Windows Phone 7 that adds no less than 500 new features to the OS. (We’ve written more about it here and here.)

Update: To boost that theory, Microsoft itself has also endorsed the event on its own Windows Phone UK Facebook page.

HTC already makes devices using WP7, but one could argue that — like other WP7 licensees — up to now HTC hasn’t given those devices nearly as much fanfare as it has its line of Android-based devices.

The September 1 event could be a moment to mark a change in that marketing approach.

The companies have been longtime partners: HTC was the first company to make a touchscreen handset using a Microsoft OS — the PocketPC in 2000 — and it was the first OEM to make a Microsoft-powered smartphone in 2002.

All that, of course, was way before Google’s Android hit the scene.

HTC has been careful to endorse the deal between Motorola and Google in a public way: the company gave a soundbyte to Google to use in its acquisition announcement.

Then over the weekend its CEO Peter Chou gave a long interview to the Dow Jones (via Total Telecom) outlining how it would stick by Android post the acquisition, and leverage both of the OSs in its product portfolio:

“I think there’s a lot we can do…it’s not the operating system, it’s the ecosystem…so we think we can find a way to differentiate to add value, but at the same time leverage our partners, Google and Microsoft, since we have such a great relationship with them,” he said.

Against the fast rise of Android and the strong staying power of Apple’s iOS-based iPhone, Microsoft has had a challenging hard time making much headway with its Windows Phone platform in the last year.

Gartner’s latest quarterly figures for smartphone market share gave WP7 a mere 1.6 percent of the market, down from 4.9 percent a year ago.

Analysts are expecting that share grow quite some way when Nokia (NYSE: NOK) starts to sell its first WP7 devices, but they won’t really get the ball rolling with those until the start of 2012. That gives other handset makers like HTC and INQ a shot at mindshare in the meantime. That could give Microsoft its best shot yet to show the world whether it has what it takes to be a strong player in the mobile market.