Microsoft is making it a little easier for developers to get their hands on Windows Phone 7 devices for building and testing applications.
In a blog post this afternoon detailing some previously announced updates to the Windows Phone Developer Tools, Brandon Watson, who is Microsoft's director of developer relations, said that the company has partnered with Zones.com to let developers buy Windows Phone 7 devices without a voice or data contract.
The phones, which include HTC's HD7 and Surround as well as the Samsung Focus, come carrier-locked, but can be had for about $500 without venturing to a carrier or third-party retail site to make the purchase.
In the past Microsoft has made a concerted effort to get devices into developer hands even before an official launch. At last year's Professional Developers Conference, all paid attendees were given phones following the keynote speech, a week ahead of the U.S launch. That said, to get additional or replacement devices, Microsoft had been encouraging developers to go through carriers, where contract strings were attached.
Watson also provided an update to the number of Windows Phone 7 developers and apps within its library, and there have been noted improvements in just a week's time.
Microsoft now says the number of registered Windows Phone developers is 27,000, up from the 24,000 metric the company cited a week ago. Those developers have also bumped up the number of apps on Microsoft's Windows Phone Marketplace to "more than 7,500," marking an increase of 1,000 apps since last week.
To put both these metrics side-by-side, and over time since the launch of the device, here's what things look like using data Microsoft has provided over the past several months:
Microsoft has yet to provide concrete numbers on overall app downloads, though during the company's CES keynote address, CEO Steve Ballmer said that more than half of Windows Phone 7 users were downloading a new application every day. By comparison, competitor Apple announced it had topped 10 billion application downloads in its less-than-three-year-old app store last month.