Microsoft Windows Phone 7 Reaches Technical Preview

Microsoft is releasing a build of Windows Phone 7 to developer partners, as the smartphone operating system inches toward release. Microsoft has been testing Windows Phone 7 internally for months.

Microsoft is announcing that Windows Phone 7 has reached its "technical preview" milestone. Developer partners will now have the chance to test the upcoming smartphone operating system, due later this year. The announcement comes a week after Microsoft released its Windows Phone Developer Tools Beta, which can be used to construct apps and games for the platform.

"Starting today, thousands of prototype phones from Asus, LG and Samsung are making their way into the hands of developers," Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of Windows Phone Engineering, wrote in a July 18 posting on "The Windows Blog." "So we're almost there-but there is much work left to do. Together, with our early adopter customers, developers, OEMs, and mobile operator partners we are in the home stretch."

Myserson added that more than 1,000 Microsoft employees had been testing Windows Phone 7 over the past few months, specifically for metrics such as battery life, usability and network connectivity. The Windows Phone 7 interface aggregates Web content and applications into a series of subject-specific "Hubs"-such as "Games" or "Office," for example-and it will come paired with Windows Phone Marketplace loaded with applications from third-party developers.

"The craftsmen [and women] of our team have signed off that our software is now ready for the hands-on everyday use of a broad set of consumers around the world," Myerson wrote in his blog posting, "and we're looking forward to their feedback in the coming weeks, so that we can finish the best Windows Phone release ever together."

Now that Microsoft has reached this particular milestone, the pressure will only mount to bring developers into the fold. To that end, the company is reportedly offering cash and other resources in exchange for mobile applications.

"We are investing heavily in the developer community by offering as many resources as we can to help them be successful on our platform," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote to eWEEK on July 14. "Where it makes sense, we do co-fund strategic projects on a limited basis."

That investment appears to fall into two categories: Reports suggest that, in addition to encouraging developers to build business-centric applications, Microsoft has been offering cash incentives to creators of popular iPhone games, in hopes of porting some of them onto Windows Phone 7. But Microsoft also needs to persuade developers that the OS will prove a popular enough platform for their apps to make money.

During last week's Worldwide Partner Conference, various Microsoft executives took to their pulpits to insist that, despite the company's eroding share of the smartphone market, Windows Phone 7 has a solid chance of succeeding among both consumers and businesses.

"The phone is going through a massive inflection point," Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, told the audience during his July 13 keynote address. "There's immense competition, but, in many respects, things are just beginning."

Lees suggested that Windows Phone 7's interface represented an evolutionary progression over its competition: "The problem is that smartphones are just app launchers; they're a grid of icons. We figured there's got to be a better way than going app by app by app, so two years ago we fundamentally reset our strategy."

That strategy, he explained, centered on three tenets: smart design, the integrated experiences offered by the Hubs, and an optimized ecosystem.

"One of the problems the phones are going through right now is fragmentation," Lees added, in what seemed to be a backhand swipe at Google Android, which runs on a seemingly ever-increasing number of devices. "For developers and ISVs, it makes it very difficult. We're making sure our software is fully optimized."

The next test, however, will be whether developers buy all those arguments and that the offerings are enticing enough to devote time and resources to actually building Windows Phone 7.