The official launch of Windows Phone 7 is only a month or two away, and Microsoft is eager to demonstrate that its entry into the smartphone market already has momentum.
As Exhibit A, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) said on Monday that developers have downloaded the beta development tools that it debuted last month some 300,000 times.
For Microsoft, early signs of application developers' enthusiasm for Windows Phone 7 and its SDK -- which is now slated to reach its final version on Sept. 16 -- would seem to suggest a solid opening ahead for the new mobile OS and its compatible smartphones, which can boast plenty of hot applications awaiting new users at launch time.
"It's amazing to see so many inspired developers looking to create experiences for Windows Phone 7," Microsoft spokesperson Brandon Watson, said in a post to the Windows Phone Developer blog.
"Just about every conversation we have with developers focuses on their strategy for generating more business with Windows Phone 7," Watson added.
It's still not clear when precisely Microsoft's partners will launch Windows Phone 7 devices, but a Microsoft spokesperson reiterated previous company statements that compatible phones would be on store shelves in time for the holidays.
The industry is now watching closely to see whether Windows Phone 7 can attract developer attention -- and consumers -- away from a whole host of competing platforms, like the Apple iPhone and iPad, Google-backed Android, the Research In Motion BlackBerry, and Nokia-centric Symbian. So far, at least, Microsoft has some reason to crow: Watson named a short list of companies expected to deliver apps for Windows Phone 7, including eBay, Esurance Insurance, Kelley Blue Book, Realtor.com, and the Associated Press.
Subsequent releases of the Windows Phone Developer Tools up to its final-version release on Sept. 16 may help generate even more enthusiasm for Windows Phone 7 among mobile developers -- at least, that's the hope.
For developers, through, the arrival of the final developer tools next month may be a bit of a mixed blessing.
"The final tools will likely have some minor breaking changes from the beta tools, so developers may have to fix some bugs that arise," the blog post said. "The final tools will also include several highly requested Silverlight controls, which will make it even easier for developers to deliver high-quality Windows Phone 7 experiences. Also in the September 16th final release, the panorama, pivot and Bing maps controls will all be available to drop into applications."
Winding Road to Windows Phone 7
With Windows Mobile controlling only 15 percent of the mobile OS market, according to first-quarter comScore data, Microsoft certainly has no small amount of competition in mobile smartphones -- not the least of which is from Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) popular iPhone series, which is widely credited with popularizing the current craze around mobile apps.
After all, Apple's iPhone SDK had 100,000 downloads in the first week it was available, two and a half years ago, relatively early days as far as the downloadable app market goes.
That early interest from developers translated to the rapid proliferation of apps for Apple's mobile platform: In May, the company claimed its App Store had 200,000 iPhone apps available, with 5,000 apps available for the just-launched iPad, as well. By last September, Apple's App Store users had downloaded more than 2 billion iPhone apps.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has been paring down its own mobile projects in a bid to focus on the Windows Phone 7 platform -- now its only real play for the smartphone market.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced Windows Phone 7 during February's Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain, saying the new OS would be on store shelves in time for the 2010 holiday sales season. Since then, Microsoft has been busily clearing the decks so it could concentrate on the new release. First, it orphaned its Windows Mobile 6.x line of feature phones and the applications that it had supported, admitting that apps for those older phones would not be forward-compatible with Windows Phone 7.
Then Microsoft announced that the proposed and widely rumored Courier tablet PC-like mobile device had been scrapped, despite having never formally announced Courier as a real product. Finally, after only a few weeks on the market, the company pulled the plug on its Kin consumer-oriented phone due to miniscule sales volumes.