Microsoft (s msft) is expected to bring new Windows Phone 7 handsets to the market this holiday season. However, for two enterprising high school students Christmas came early. Christian Hood and Eric Lo won Microsoft’s Imagine Cup event with a 2D game they developed, called Droid Assault, using an emulator in place of hardware. The developing duo earned prize money for the win, but Microsoft felt the program was worthy of more and provided both students with a preview Windows Phone 7 handset. While all of the Imagine Cup participants received vouchers for Windows Phone 7 devices, those vouchers can’t be redeemed until the official launch of the devices.
So Hood and Lo are the unexpected first recipients of handsets running on Microsoft’s upcoming platform, making them the coolest kids in their class. More importantly, this event signals that Microsoft’s mobile efforts around Windows Phone 7 are moving at a fast pace and that devices could be in consumer hands sooner rather than later. By saying “holiday availability” initially, Microsoft left the door open to interpretation, and many assumed the phones wouldn’t arrive until November or December at best. But if a preview version is good enough to be out in the wild — beyond Microsoft’s control — then devices could appear in carrier stores by October. An earlier than expected delivery hinges upon many things — code readiness, hardware partner relationships, and carrier agreements — but would be a positive sign for Microsoft.
Windows Mobile has languished in terms of development and adoption as consumers, and even some enterprises, have embraced Android (s goog), iOS4 (s aapl) and BlackBerry (s rimm) phones over the past couple years. An earlier than anticipated launch would also help quell memories of Microsoft’s embarrassing Kin debacle, which saw the company kill the Kin phone just six weeks after launch.
I have a hunch Hood and Lo are happy that their bonus prize wasn’t a leftover Kin.
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