Microsoft is confirming that "many thousands" of pre-release Windows Phone 7 handsets will be given to selected developers starting in July, but confusion over how that will be done continues.
At its TechEd conference earlier this month, Windows Phone 7 played a minor role compared to the emphasis on cloud computing. Microsoft's Terry Myerson, who runs engineering for Windows Phone 7, told his audience at one session that the pre-release phones for testing applications will be available in July. But since then, there's been almost no elaboration on the process or criterion for selecting developers.
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Developers are trying to fill in the blanks on their own. "My understanding is the only developers who are eligible for these pre-release devices are those who have published Windows Mobile 6+ applications" on the existing Windows Mobile online catalog, says Kevin Hoffman, blogger and author of several books on Windows development. He's also chief systems architect for a waste management company in Connecticut.
Microsoft's overall intent, at least, is clear: deliver the pre-release phones to developers -- from big independent software vendors to one- and two-man software shops, including game creators -- who are seriously investing in, and working with, the current pre-beta code and developer tools for Windows Phone 7.
Having functional handsets on which to load, test and debug Windows Phone 7 applications is critical to many though not all developers. Today, they use a well-regarded emulator program, which is included in the various Windows Phone developer tools, and which runs on a Windows PC. The emulator mimics the phone, including the touch interface. But for designing and fine-tuning a touch application for the radically redesigned mobile OS, there's no substitute for a real phone.
These phones "won't be final build quality -- they are meant for testing and readiness for the [Windows Phone] Marketplace opening later this year," according to a blog post by a Microsoft employee, Brandon Watson, who describes his role as "currently responsible for the Developer Experience team for Windows Phone 7." Unlocked phones for developers will be offered for purchase later this year, after the initial launch of Windows Phone 7 and the first crop of handsets running it, expected this Fall.
As of this writing, no formal announcement of the phone sharing program has been posted to the official Windows Phone blog (in fact, nothing has been posted there since June 7), nor to the main Windows Phone developer site. But a PR spokeswoman said Watson will post some details and clarifications Thursday or Friday on the Windows Phone developer blog.