ZTE has released two Windows Phone 7.5 handsets (together with a number of variants), the ZTE Tania (2011) and the ZTE Orbit (2012). In line with Microsoft's official policy both these handsets should receive a software upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8.
ZTE is not one of the four hardware launch partners announced by Microsoft earlier this summer, but, as we noted in an earlier story, ZTE executive Kan Yu Lun, has been quoted as saying a ZTE Windows Phone 8 device is in development:
This report ties in with earlier reports from Suanche, a Chinese language site, that quoted Kan Yu Lun, ZTE's CTO of Mobile Phone Products, as saying ZTE was stepping up their investment in Windows Phone and would be launching new devices in Q2 2013, with a focus on the Chinese market.
The Weibo image that prompted the latest round of ZTE speculation shows three handsets, with some portions of the image deliberately blurred. All the handsets in the image are running Windows Phone. The handset on the right appears to be the ZTE Tania running the new style Start screen (most likely running Windows Phone 7.8). The handset in the middle is running Windows Phone 7.5 (note the presence of rightward arrow next to Start screen tiles), and the handset on the right is also running Windows Phone.
The image is captioned with "two heads are better, MacroHard", which winp.cn, WPCentral and others speculate is a reference to Microsoft's intention to support both Windows Phone 7.8 and Windows Phone 8 handsets. Windows Phone 7.8 will be available for all existing Windows Phone 7.5 handsets, but is also expected to be used in new low end handsets, as Microsoft and its partners seek to drive down the cost of Windows Phone devices.
Weibo is a Chinese microblogging service, roughly equivalent to a combination of Twitter and Facebook. It is one of the most popular services in China and is estimated to be used by more than a third of Chinese Internet users (300 million users as of February 2012). It's not unusual to see the service used to drop hints about upcoming handsets or announcements, but these are usually relatively low key (e.g. a software upgrade), or provide additional details after a formal announcement.