Microsoft releases WP7 tools beta; preview phones coming next week

Actual phones are due out later this year

Windows Phone 7 (WP7) is coming later this year and today Microsoft released a beta version of developer tools to enable software makers to build applications and games for WP7 devices.

Microsoft, which has conceded problems with its mobile initiative and has faced plenty of criticism, also said it is releasing pre-production preview Windows Phone 7 devices broadly to developers on Monday. Last week, it gave the first preview devices to two high school students in Poland known who submitted a game for WP7 called Droid Assault. The game won the Windows Phone Rockstar contest .

Microsoft attempted to show forward movement with WP7. A preview version of the developer tools was released in March and were "widely embraced by the [developer] community," wrote Microsoft blogger Brandon Watson today. Andy Lees, mobile senior vice president of Microsoft, also announced the beta of the tools during a speech at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C., following CEO Steve Ballmer's keynote. In his speech, Ballmer promised that the company is working diligently to get WP7 ready , though he did not offer a specific release date.

Watson praised the progress of the WP7 team, which he said had done "an amazing job of delivering code month after month on our path to releasing [WP7] later this year" -- especially given that WP7 was unveiled by Ballmer at Mobile World Congress in February.

In notes accompanying the tools beta, Microsoft listed a series of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) new to the tools. Watson also said the overall WP7 API is "getting close to completion" and pointed to updates to push notification, accelerometer and App Bar APIs in today's release.

Watson called the beta of the tools a "big milestone" and said its release means developers can build apps with a "ship-it mentality" with adjustments later when the tools are final. He said Microsoft is " blown away by the early look at the apps."

In another Microsoft blog, Paul Bryan mirrored some of Lees' comments and said there is a $5.6 billion market opportunity for Microsoft partners who integrate SharePoint Workspace collaboration software with a WP7 client.

Also, Bryan included a picture of a custom Silverlight-based productivity application that could appear on WP7, allowing a user to switch between "dashboard, sales, and marketing" screens on a device with a finger swipe to access business information.

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