Microsoft says it's ramping up efforts to distribute engineering test copies of Windows Phone 7 handsets to developers, with potentially thousands getting an early, hands-on trial of creating apps on the new OS.
The underlying message for developers is that Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) upcoming iPhone competitor is still on target for a fall release and commercial availability during the holiday sales season.
The company said that some 1,000 Microsoft employees have been using the prototype phones as their only mobile devices for the past several months, not counting another 10,000 devices it has in testing labs.
Microsoft began giving out the first prototype Windows Phone 7 devices at last week's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Washington, with the promise to deliver more beginning this week.
"I'm very excited to share with this blog community that our Windows Phone 7 engineering team has hit a very meaningful milestone; one that we're calling technical preview," Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of Windows Phone engineering, said in a post to the Windows Phone blog Sunday.
"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," Myerson's post continued.
The release of preview phones that developers can use for building and testing Windows Phone 7 apps comes on the heels of the start last week of beta testing for Windows Phone 7 developer tools meant to make building apps for the new platform easier.
Though early reviews of the devices and the operating system have been mixed, one analyst had some positive comments regarding Microsoft's software design and execution after spending time with one of the phones.
"The OS ran well even in pre-release form with excellent fluidity and no slowdowns or lags. That's a pretty good sign," Michael Gartenberg, a partner with Altimeter Group, said in a post to his personal blog early Monday.
"Microsoft's doing the right things here with Windows Phone 7. It's visibly differentiated from the competition, but the challenge that comes with that will be explaining to the market why that difference is better than what we've seen before," Gartenberg wrote.