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Just weeks to go, and still no SDK: An ill omen for Windows Phone 8?

It has been a few months since Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8, its newest smartphone reboot and the successor to Windows Phone 7.5. In all this time, with the launch just weeks away, app developers have yet to get a Software Development Kit (SDK) to build apps for the new OS. The company claims this is being done to keep the features a secret. This position is either completely clueless or an intentional misrepresentation, and it puts the future of Windows Phone 8 in jeopardy.

Microsoft has opened up limited access to the Windows Phone 8 Preview SDK, leaving most devs out in the cold. Only a few top developers have access to the development environment. In case you’re not keeping track, the Windows Phone 8 launch event is on 29 October, less than three weeks away. If you were expecting Windows Phone 8′s app ecosystem to be one of its main selling points, think again.

According to the company’s own blog post, it believes that keeping the final Windows Phone 8 features a secret will generate the most excitement when the phones eventually come out. This reasoning is extraordinarily bizarre because it means there will be very few native Windows Phone 8 apps at launch. Windows Phone 7.5 apps should run in compatibility mode, but will lack many features. Developers aren’t even bothering to continue work on WP7.5 apps with the new OS just around the corner. Redmond has caused its own app ecosystem to stagnate at the worst possible time.

A multitude of pundits have weighed in, and the consensus from them is that Microsoft might just be buying time because the platform isn’t quite done yet. If this is the case, and there are no secret killer features, Microsoft should simply release the preview SDK to all Windows Phone developers. There is no universe in which the current course of action makes sense.

Whatever its true reasons, Microsoft is letting marketing dictate the deployment of software instead of what’s really best for the product. The company is under the mistaken impression that a good feature set can replace a vibrant app ecosystem. It’s wonderful to have features like multitasking, better customisation, and advanced notifications – but what are the first questions people ask when they get a new smartphone? They don’t want to know the best way to expose data on the home screen; they want to know which apps to download.

Looking back at the last two years of Windows Phone, it has been an example of catastrophic mismanagement. Phones were slow to roll out, updates were late, the ads were awful, and features were missing. It feels like everyone was willing to cut Microsoft a break when it announced Windows Phone 8 and said old phones would not be upgradeable, but the opportunity is being squandered.

Microsoft has made, and continues to make, a huge amount of money from its desktop software products. It is this fact alone that has kept Windows Phone going for two long years. Almost any other company on the planet would have washed its hands of Windows Phone after a second unsuccessful holiday season.

There are things to like about Windows Phone 8. It has some innovative ideas, and a user interface that can look very attractive when it’s used correctly. But Microsoft is essentially trying to go it alone on the strength of built-in features (whatever those end up being). In reality, it needs the support of the development community to actually move phones and keep users happy.