Windows Phone 7 SDK comes with odd developer handset scheme

Windows Phone 7 logoLate on Friday, Microsoft released a new version of the Windows Phone 7 software development kit. The new version for the first time supports the widely anticipated copy-and-paste functionality, allowing developers to build and test clipboard capabilities with their applications.

Using copy and paste on actual handsets will have to wait, however. More than three months since it launched, Microsoft still hasn't shipped any updates to its new smartphone operating system: for the time being, only the SDK's emulator and certain developer phones support the new feature. However, the new SDK suggests that a firmware update can't be far off.

As well as updating the SDK, Microsoft announced a new program to allow developers to buy handsets without a contract. In many parts of the world, the various Windows Phone 7 handsets are not available on the open market; they are subject to various exclusive deals with network operators, and are often tied to lengthy contracts. The result can be an all-in price of $2,000 or more. Though Microsoft has given some number of special development handsets to developers for free, this has been done at the company's discretion. If a developer wants a selection of handsets to deploy and test with, they're faced with the unpalatable option of buying regular retail handsets, and paying for a new contract to go with them.

To attempt to address this, Microsoft has introduced a scheme to allow registered Windows Phone 7 developers to buy contract-free Windows Phone 7 handsets. Presently, this is limited to the US only (with EMEA due to be added next week); US developers can buy a T-Mobile-locked HTC HD7, or AT&T-locked HTC Surrounds and Samsung Focuses, all contract-free.

Unfortunately, this scheme is astonishingly badly conceived. For one, the phones remain network locked. If you normally use T-Mobile, but want to check your application out on the AT&T handsets, you're going to need to pay for an AT&T plan anyway. In the US, you might want to do this anyway, since frequency incompatibilities mean that the use of AT&T-branded handsets on T-Mobile's network precludes use of any 3G services, and vice versa, but in, for example, the UK, where all phones are compatible with all networks, the network lock will serve simply to make things less convenient. Given that these are unsubsidized, full-price handsets, that's a bad move.

Secondly, the most interesting model to test with—the LG Quantum—isn't available through the scheme. This is the most interesting model, because it includes a landscape-style keyboard. One might very well want to test one's application with the hardware keyboard to verify that the layout is reasonable even with the on-screen keyboard hidden. But you can't buy it through the developer handset scheme.

Third, these are just regular retail handsets. The special, not-for-sale, developer handsets have been given early access to firmware updates, enabling testing not only of the current operating system version, but the next one, too (similar to the way that Apple makes beta firmware versions available to registered iOS developers). There's no indication that the same will be true of handsets sold through this program: developers using them will get access to new firmware at the same time as everybody else.

Finally, and most damningly of all, the scheme is simply pointless anyway. AT&T will already sell you a handset without a contract. And buying from AT&T costs less than buying through the new scheme. The (excellent) Samsung Focus costs $525 through Microsoft's scheme—or $399 with AT&T's "No Commitment", contract-free pricing. The LG Quantum is only available direct from AT&T, again at $399. The HTC Surround is the "best" deal; $500 through the developer phone program, or $499 from AT&T. It's the same story with the T-Mobile-locked HD7. $499.99 from T-Mobile, $500 from Microsoft.

It's not that the idea here is bad: some model for giving developers better access to handsets is probably essential to ensure continued consistency and compatibility. And perhaps the EMEA handsets will be priced more attractively. But as things stand, if it's an American handset you're after, you're probably better off talking to a telco directly, making one rather wonder why Microsoft even bothered.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Microsoft, mobile phones, Windows Phone 7

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