Can Microsoft make a smartphone comeback?

It's been over a year since Microsoft unveiled their last flagship smartphone – the Lumia 930. In the high-end handset world, that's a long time.

In that period, Apple launched its iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Samsung's Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge came to market, and the Asian players continue to make tracks.

But a leak on technology website Unleash the Phones this week suggested that the U.S. technology giant could have two premium devices on the way, one with a 5.7 inch screen and the other with a 5.2 inch display. Both will boast a 20 megapixel camera.

Microsoft declined to comment on the leaks.

However, after waiting so long and after so many big changes in the smartphone market, are the doors closed to Microsoft?

Windows 10 operating system on a smart phone at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover, Germany, March 14, 2015.
Morris Mac Matzen | Reuters
Windows 10 operating system on a smart phone at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover, Germany, March 14, 2015.

"The doors to high-end smartphone are shut to everyone apart from Apple and Samsung. There are breadcrumbs left for everyone else and it's a particular challenging for Microsoft because they are kind of background noise in the context of the global market," Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight, told CNBC by phone.

Window 'closing fast'

Microsoft has released a slew of low-to-mid-end smartphones in the year since its last flagship phone was launched but the company does not appear to have given up on the high-end sector. Earlier this year, Stephen Elop, head of Microsoft's devices business, said the U.S. technology giant would release a device when its much-anticipated Windows 10 is launched.

An exact date for the operating system has not been revealed, but Microsoft is betting big on it, pushing what it calls "Universal Apps" – a feature that allows app developers to write one code to run across all Windows devices. The hope is to increase the amount of apps on the platform and attract more users.

Microsoft has struggled in the smartphone space even after buying Nokia's devices business last year. The Windows operating system has a 3 percent global market share on mobile, way behind Apple's iOS and Google Android, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

Last week, Microsoft released tools to make it easier for Google Android and Apple iOS developers to make their apps available for Windows phones as well, to boost the appeal to more developers and consumers. But after waiting so long for a phone release, Microsoft will face an uphill battle, analysts said.

Microsoft's plan to regain popularity
Microsoft's plan to regain popularity   

"The window of opportunity for Windows 10 is closing fast," Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, told CNBC phone.

"The install base of Microsoft devices is not big enough to attract developers, and because of not enough apps they can't attract a big enough user base. They are caught between a rock and a hard place."

Microsoft reborn?

So how exactly will Microsoft turn around its devices business in the face of stiff competition? It all hangs on the launch of Windows 10, analysts said.

The company's chief executive, Satya Nadella, has previously said that Microsoft hardware has to be designed to showcase the best of Windows. The Surface range of tablets has gone some way to do that, fusing laptop and tablet.

Ian Fogg, head of mobile at IHS, said that launching innovative hardware with the release of Windows 10 will be key, given that it's Microsoft's first big operating system release in two years.

"I think Windows 10 is in essence going to be a re-launch for Microsoft with the smartphone strategy. It's the first major release of Windows the Nokia deal closed," Fogg told CNBC by phone.

"What I would hope Microsoft will do is use the opportunity of the Windows 10 launch to launch some very innovative new hardware that ties into features on Windows 10."