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Developers who expect to get cracking on apps for Windows Phone 8 this summer may be in for a disappointment: not only will the final WP8 SDK not arrive until later this year, but the Preview edition due next week will be available to only a select few.

At the Windows Phone Summit event in San Francisco this June, Microsoft was fairly tight-lipped about developer features of WP8, but said that it would have "much more to offer" on the SDK and its related Visual Studio developer tools "later this summer."

On Wednesday, Todd Brix, who leads product management for Microsoft's Windows Mobile developer platform, confirmed that a "near-final" SDK would be available for download on September 12 – just not to everyone.

Only current Windows Phone developers who already have published apps will be eligible to apply for access, Brix wrote, adding, "But I do want to set your expectations that program access will be limited."

Redmond's decision to launch its WP8 developer program with such a closely guarded preview adds to mounting evidence that the final versions of the WP8 developer tools won't be available until October – or even later – and quite possibly not until after the first WP8 handsets go on sale.

In August, Microsoft made the final versions of some components of its Visual Studio 2012 product line available to MSDN subscribers in advance of its official September 12 launch date, but Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows Phone was not one of them. According to Redmond's marketing materials, that version "will be available in conjunction with the next Windows Phone release."

Just when that might be is anyone's guess. Also on Wednesday, Microsoft and Nokia announced the details of the Finnish mobile maker's first proper Windows phones, but they were just as tight-lipped about launch dates as they were about pricing.

To be fair, it took Apple more than a year after the launch of the original iPhone to offer a native SDK for iOS. Still, the smartphone market of today is very different that it was in 2007.

If developers won't be able to get their hands on finished tools for Windows Phone 8 until after the first devices hit shelves, it could mean new Windows Phone buyers will be greeted with an empty app store – a mistake not even Research in Motion is willing to make. ®

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