Without stating whether or not its Windows Phone 7 (WP7) phones are still scheduled to show up in retail stores by year’s end, Microsoft took a big step forward this week in announcing a “technical preview” involving the delivery of prototype phones from Asus, LG, and Samsung to application developers.
“Starting today, thousands of prototype phones from Asus, LG and Samsung are making their way into the hands of developers over the next few weeks,” according to Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s CVP for Windows Phone Engineering.
“Combine that with the beta release of Windows Phone developer tools, and I can’t wait to see how our developer partners take advantage of our new approach to smart design and integrated experiences,” he wrote, in a Microsoft blog post.
WP7 to Compete with iPhone and Android OS
Faced with rising competition from Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry, and increasing numbers of phones based on the Android OS, Microsoft unveiled plans in February to recast its smartphone platform on an entirely new software code base.
At developer events since then, Microsoft has worked hard at drumming up interest in WP7, in hopes of starting to catch up in smartphone apps.
Early last week, Microsoft released the beta code for the Phone 7 0S, a smartphone environment that will center around six separate activity hubs: People, Pictures, Games, Music & Video, MarketPlace and Office.
Other features will include GPS with mapping and turn-by-turn voice navigation, along with integration between Facebook and Microsoft Outlook that will let users navigate Facebook pages from within Outlook.
Three Developer Models
The initial Asus model running WP7 has a tablet shape with a minimalistic design. It has two cameras, though, one front facing.
Samsung’s first Windows Phone 7 model also has a tablet shape, and its design includes lots of chrome.
LG’s has a sliding landscape oriented keyboard, but is still be just a bit thicker than an iPhone. It has a trackpad below its touchscreen, and also sports a front-facing camera.
WP7’s ‘Extensive Testing’
In an apparent jab at Apple’s rival iPhone 4, Microsoft’s Myerson emphasized that Windows Phone 7 devices have already undergone “extensive testing.”
More than 10,000 devices have been tested in Microsoft’s labs, and 1,000 Microsoft employees have used WP7 phones as their only phone for the past several months, he said.
“We’ve been testing usability, battery life, network connectivity, and many other metrics for a long time. As a result of that work, I hope you will find the experience to be of surprisingly high quality,” he contended.
After a press conference last Friday about the iPhone 4’s antenna problems, phone makers Samsung, HTC, and Motorola issued statements saying that Apple could have avoided these problems by allowing operators to test the phone before it went on sale to the public.
“So we’re almost there – but there is much left work to do,” Myerson noted about Microsoft’s WP7 platform. “Together, with our early adopter customers, developers, OEM and mobile operator partners we are in the home stretch.”
Just How Long Is the ‘Home Stretch’?
Myerson didn’t say exactly how much time might be left in the “home stretch.” However, Microsoft has previously voiced plans for Windows Phone 7 models to be available in retail stores in time for the 2010 holiday season.
Aside from Asus, LG and Samsung, Microsoft’s other announced OEM partners for WP7 include HTC,, Dell, HP, Sony Ericsson, and Toshiba, for example.
In mid-April, Microsoft announced its own pair of Kin phones. Microsoft withdrew the two socially-oriented phones from the market in July, though, following disappointing sales. While the Kins used some of the same core system software as the upcoming WP7 phones, they offered a completely different user interface (UI).