Want to dev-unlock your Windows Phone? Here are your options.

So you got a Windows Phone for Christmas? Sweet. If you're a developer, you're probably itching to start writing code for the device. If an advanced hobbyist, homebrew software may be more of your interest. While the emulator -- a part of the Windows Phone SDK -- rocks for testing locally, you'll eventually want to try the real deal by loading up XAPs on your phone. We'll cover the pros and cons of each approach to do so.


Microsoft App Hub

The App Hub is evolution of what was previously called the XNA Creators Club, offering a hub for both Xbox Live and Windows Phone development. With the purchase of a subscription costing $99 USD per year, you'll gain access to human technical support and more importantly access to the Marketplace where you can sell your shiny wares. If you can afford it or know you have the next killer app (to cover the yearly dues) -- we say go for it. Our friends outside Marketplace Launch areas, like those in the Middle East, will have access to App Hub via a proxy participating in the Microsoft Global Publisher Program. (Yalla Apps is a great example.) It's also worth noting students, via the Dreamspark initiative, can get that fee waived if eligible. (A steal!)

  • Pros: Original Microsoft solution, Marketplace publish access, technical support. Can unlock 3 devices.
  • Cons: It's expensive ($99 USD/yr). Can vary if using a GPP proxy.

But some developers can't or won't make that commitment. They may want to practice their C# skills or play with some crazy experimental code from a neighbor. In any case, there are try-before-you-buy-App-Hub options at your disposal:

Jaxbot's WindowBreak

Using XDA Developers' Heathcliff74's original package as a start, another XDA Developers member, Jaxbot, made some tweaks to simplify the deployment mechanism. Rather than deploy the package using a PC (i.e. sideload), requiring an already unlocked device, his solution involves visiting a specially crafted webpage. That ease of use, however, comes at a price -- limiting compatibility to only Samsung devices at the moment. (He's working on this and soon expects it to be as compatible as Heathcliff74's original offering.)

  • Pros: Free, offers coveted "interop access", easy to install
  • Cons: Only (currently) works on Samsung phones, will break if Microsoft patches hole

ChevronWP7 Labs

The ChevronWP7 Labs experiment -- deriving its name from the already missed Stargate franchise -- was put together by Rafael Rivera, Chris Walsh, and Long Zheng, and is an evolution of the original ChevronWP7 unlocker. The team was given a rare opportunity by Microsoft to offer a cheaper, not free, solution by decoupling the phone unlocking mechanism from App Hub. (That means no Marketplace publishing.) For $9 USD, 'Labs will (legimitately) unlock any Windows Phone you have for the life of that device. No Microsoft vs. hacker cat and mouse game participiation required. The downside is that you don't get that coveted "interop access" the other solutions provide. But you could, of course, combine this unlock method with perhaps another. Cough.

  • Pros: Vetted by Microsoft, easy to use, compatible with all devices, future proof
  • Cons: Not free ($9 USD), no "interop access" out of the box

As you can see, there are quite a few options for developer unlocking your Windows Phone. Each has their pros and cons and which one is "best" depends on your short and long-term goals. Tinker tots not unfamiliar with flashing their devices and working out issues will be happy with the free offerings. Those looking for less trouble and a longer-term solution would probably be better suited with ChevronWP7 Labs or a full blown App Hub subscription. Regardless, when you get that awesome app written let us know.

Full discosure: I work with 'Walsh, and 'Zheng on the ChevronWP7 Labs experiment. This guide was designed to simply lay out the facts in a digestible format. I have no intention to mislead the public for financial gain of any kind. The comparison chart's columns are sorted by consumer usefulness (green).

Revision note: Heathcliff's XAP was removed from the guide. I forgot it required a developer unlocked device, hence the development of WindowBreak. Sorry about that! Too much 'nog. (Thanks @Jaxbot!)

Rafael Rivera
  • wow. really good article..thanks Rafael.
  • It should also be noted that WindowsBreak (by association Heathcliffs too?) is breaking some users' 3G as mentioned in the comments here: http://www.wpcentral.com/windowsbreak-free-interop-unlock-your-samsung-device
  • 3g can be fixed with either the wireless manager tool or the netprofile tool, depending on what device you are using.
  • There's now more ways to unlock your phone then there are homebrew apps, congrats chevron team.
    There isn't one homebrew app for the focus s that works with interop access, maybe you guys should try working on something like that. Even though my phone is interop unlocked, all of the interop needing homebrew apps need to be rewriten to work with the focus s and focus flash.
    So besides for pirating games and apps, I don't see how these unlocks are usefull to 95% of windows phones users. I also can't see how this platform will ever really take off if users can't even set custom accents. I've been a Windows Phone supporter since day one, bought my foucs the day it came out and now bought my focus s the day it came out as well, however, I am being to lose faith.
  • You should check this out: http://windowsphonehacker.com/articles/themes_for_windows_phone_first_re... No interop unlock needed.
  • that breaks live tiles.
  • Yes it does and it sucks. But... it's still great to add pizzazz to those bland non-live tiles. It works quite well actually.
  • You can change the color of your themes with advanced configuration. What I've been trying to do is make a custom text tone. If anyone knows a way please lmk. Thanks for the great article.
  • Advance config doesn't work for the focus s.
  • Advanced Configuration also requires interop unlocking.  I purchased the license for the ChevronWP7 Labs unlock and only homebrew that doesn't require interop unlocking will install.
  • It's ridiculous that you need InteropUnlock to add tile colors or
    change/add Zune artist pics, among other things. They shoud be standard options on the OS, or at least available with a Chevron Unlock. That's what homebrew is (mostly) about on other platforms. Customization.
    As it is now, Chevron is only good for pirating apps and amateur developers (Sorry Rafael :P – I'm just stating my opinion)
  • Screen Capture, Battery Status and Folders are three good reasons (apps) to unlock your device. And none require Interop Unlock. I am sure more will follow.
  • If I remember correctly you don't need to pay the $99 to unlock your Windows Phone via the AppHub anymore, you only pay when you submit your first app.
  • People who own a LG WP kan (interop)unlock their phones for free. Also easy to reverse.
  • Question: is there a way to make a full backup of a WP7 device? I currently have a Samsung Focus and if Nokia does what it needs to do at CES, I would like to upgrade my device. I'd really hate losing all my app data though. Afaik, officially Microsoft doesn't provide me a way to do that (I'll save the rant for later). If there is an unofficial way to do it though, maybe these dev-unlock solutions can be useful to ppl that are in my situtation.
  • Yes, there are solutions over at XDA for this...
  • There are some solutions (check XDA Developers) but none offer per-marketplace-app data backup. (e.g. there's no real migration path for your Plants vs Zombies saves). Trying to solve that problem!
  • I've checked the XDA forums and found 2 different threads with backup tools, but I'm hoping you can save me some time by answering the following 2 questions:
    1. Do the current tools support backing up device X, and restoring to device Y? I understand that X to X works.
    2. Do such backups include marketplace app data? I wasn't sure by your reply, if the problem is limited to restoring app data for a single app, or whether a full backup/restore of app data is also not supported (the latter would probably put to rest, any upgrade plans that I had).
  • 1. Nope. 2. Nope. You can either backup the entire image of the device (incl. OS version) or backup homebrew app data (who cares about that?). No other scenarios apply. Sucks eh?
  • I like the new direction Microsoft is heading, but I REALLY can't understand them sometimes! I understand releasing the original OS without multitasking or without copy/paste.. I really do! How they could make this decision though, I don't understand at all.. sigh!
  • Great article. One thing I didn't see mentioned here is that the $99 for the Microsoft App Hub allows you to dev unlock not just one, but three devices. And if I'm not mistaken, if you request it, Microsoft will let you unlock more.
  • Yup, good point.
  • Ah, good point. Will edit.
  • Also, Microsoft app hub is free if you have a .edu email address. ;)
  • Yes and no. First, it is free for one year (you need to renew every year). Second, it is only for DreamSpark users. If your school is not listed, you won't get it. Your school admin will need to get it added. I know because I had to add our school (I'm the admin). It is a pain too.
  • I wish they'd lower the required age for the AppHub. I know I can publish apps using my parents, but I'd rather have my OWN account.
  • I agree, but you also have to pay taxes on it :( I'm would LOVE to publish stuff....but nope =(
  • Thanks very much for providing this information in a concise and helpful way. It quickly allowed me to realize which option was right for me and act on it. Much better than having to do the research myself. Thanks again!
  • I am happy with windows break. It has some issues, but it works.
  • Begin 2012, ChevronWP7's tokens are sold out and Window Break is not available for many new phones (Nokia, HTC,...) The only remaining solution is the 99$ per year app Hub subscription which is clearly too expensive for people who want to experiment with WP7 Development. -> Today there is NO solution for homebrew experiment on WP7 
  • How can i pay and unlock my Screenshot app ?