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Xiaomi’s going to make Windows Phones, just not in the way you may expect

Microsoft confirmed an unusual partnership with Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi. It’s unusual because the company isn’t going to be making Windows 10 phones (yet, anyway), but it will be sending out a custom version of Microsoft’s new mobile OS to selected users of its phones for testing. Essentially, Microsoft made a custom Windows Phone ROM that can be flashed onto an Android smartphone, and Xiaomi users are some of the first to give it a try.

Xiaomi has exclusively produced Android smartphones up until now, but late last year, there were reports that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun, and this could be the first fruit of that get-together. Xiaomi is incredibly popular in China, India, and the few other countries where it sells its phones. Microsoft is obviously keen to make Windows 10 a success in these high-growth markets, so a partnership between the two makes sense.

Related: Xiaomi announces the massive Mi Note and Mi Note Pro

How does the partnership work? In a statement, Microsoft explained that a select group of Xiaomi Mi4 smartphone users will get to download a special edition of the Windows 10 Technical Preview for free, and install it on their phones. Then, feedback will be provided to the two companies, specifically based around tailoring Windows 10 for the Chinese market. Xiaomi has a very active community that’s heavily involved with its own MiUI software, and the availability of a very vocal test group undoubtably attracted Microsoft to strike up a deal with the company.

Xiaomi Windows 10 LeakWhether this will eventually lead to Xiaomi making a fully fledged Windows 10 smartphone isn’t clear, but Microsoft does say the program will “contribute to its future release later this year.” However, this doesn’t automatically mean it’ll be a phone. Perhaps if Microsoft’s custom software experiment is successful, it’ll release that ROM in China, so that more Xiaomi Android users can defect to Windows without having to actually buy a new piece of hardware.

If you’re curious about what an Mi4 looks like running Windows 10, two images have been leaked online through the @leaksfly Twitter account, showing what could be the ROM installed on the device. Take the pictures as a general idea rather than absolute evidence though, as they can’t be verified as genuine.

Microsoft hasn’t confirmed the software’s release yet, and states its availability will be announced over the coming months.