Microsoft Releases Windows Phone 7.8 SDK — Ahead Of Long-Awaited 7.8 Update, Still Due In “Early 2013”

Microsoft has released an SDK for Windows Phone 7.8 — aka the last ever update for Windows Phone 7 handsets, which have been orphaned by the company’s platform shift to Windows Phone 8 (built on a different kernel). The SDK release was announced yesterday by Microsoft on the Windows Phone developer blog.

Redmond describes the SDK as an “optional update” for developers — noting that it adds two new Windows Phone 7.8 emulator images to the developer’s existing SDK installation. “These two emulator images should enable you to fully test how your Windows Phone 7.5 app’s Live Tiles will look and behave when they are run on a device running Windows Phone 7.8,” Microsoft writes.

The main difference added by the 7.8 update is that it brings the new, more flexible Windows Phone Live Tiles homescreen to the older handsets. Instead of a mostly fixed grid of squares, WP7.8 lets users choose between combinations of three sizes of tiles to build up a more nuanced grid of apps and widgets (not that Microsoft ever calls Live Tiles ‘widgets’).

In the SDK posting, Microsoft goes on to note that new phones running WP7.8 are “beginning to ship” — so it’s not a great leap to expect the 7.8 update to be rolling out to owners of existing 7.x Windows Phones pretty soon. If the OS is good to go on new hardware Microsoft can’t still be ironing out bugs. And now, with the SDK out in the wild too, WP 7.x owners really shouldn’t have much longer to wait.  Carriers are likely to complicate the equation further though — which may explain why Redmond is refusing to be pinned down to a specific date.

Back in December the 7.8 update apparently started landing on some Nokia Lumia 800 handsets in the Netherlands — but there has been no official confirmation that a rollout has begun. Microsoft has said only that 7.8 will arrive in “early 2013”.

Asked when the 7.8 update would be landing, a Microsoft spokesman provided the following statement: “We know you’re eager to get the Windows Phone 7.8 update, and we want you to know that we’re working closely with our hardware and carrier partners to get it tested, approved, and rolled out to as many devices as possible in early 2013.”