Windows Phone 7 just like iOS, restricts users to its official app store. So if you want to install an app on your shiny new Lumia 800, the only option you have is to goto the Marketplace. If you wanted to side-load an app, just like Symbian or Harmattan, you need a developer account and a AppHub registration which costs 99$ and comes with the ability to publish apps to the marketplace.
Enter ChevronWP7 Labs, they developed an hack that allowed to side load apps and in a way ‘jailbreak’ your Windows Phone. However that wasn’t Microsoft approved and they were soon approached by Microsoft and here’s where you’ll be surprised. Instead of just shutting them down and threatening to void warranties Microsoft actually started working with Chevron Labs to reach a middle ground in order to support homebrew development. The result is the Microsoft blessed ChevronWP7 Labs.
In their own words, ‘ChevronWP7 Labs was designed to allow hobbyist developers to install, run, and debug unsigned applications on their personal Windows Phone’. But even if you’re not a developer and want the ability to side-load apps, its 9$ away. There’s already a few apps that you may like including a screenshot utility and a battery status live tile. So to ‘unlock’ your device ‘You log into the site with your Windows Live ID, pay a small fee, and presto — you’re ready to write and share some homebrew code’.
Here’s how all of this will work in a little more detail:
- All you need to get started is a Windows Live ID. It’s important to note that we don’t need the Windows Live ID tied to your phone. We simply require any Windows Live ID to simplify the registration and login process.
- After registering, users will have the ability to purchase and manage what we’re calling “unlock tokens”. One token equals one unique Windows Phone device registration. (You get unlimited re-registrations of that device should the need arise.) Tokens will cost $9.00 USD and be sold via PayPal. If having a Paypal account makes you cringe though, you can elect to check out with a credit card instead.
- On the desktop, you’ll run our custom version of the unlocking tool. It’s very similar to the official “developer registration” tool, however instead of requiring an App Hub account, it requires an unlock token. Oh and it looks prettier. Otherwise, it behaves identically. No magic spells. No exploits. Your phone’s warranty and support lifelines will remain intact.
- When using our tool, you may notice the “unlock queue” – you’ll be put into one. This queue exists to serialize our unlock requests for various security and administrative reasons, so we’ll just apologize for the inconvenience right now. We’ll be monitoring these queues to ensure they’re kept short and will add capacity where needed.
The team also adds:
We know that our work is sometimes misinterpreted as promoting “jailbreaking” activities. This is not the case. Our goal is to help bright people do awesome things without infringing upon the developer community with apps in the Marketplace. In fact, we had many conversations with Microsoft to make sure we do this the right way. It may be the long way around, but we feel this approach is ethical, the best way to ensure that the program stays alive and hobbyists like us get more access to cool toys.
So there you go, Microsoft isn’t willing to just let anyone side load apps just yet, but if you’re looking for a way to do so, its good to know there’s an official option available. Nokia users have been used to side-loading apps all the time, and may be the company will be able to use its influence to open the platform up a little. But till that time, there’s always ChevronWP7 Labs. In an ideal world Microsoft should directly let users ‘unlock’ their device for free, with all the disclaimers attached. But this move still shows that they seem to ‘get it’.