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Homebrew brewing up a batch of goodness

While Windows Phone offers a fairly complete package out of the box, especially with Mango onboard, there are always going to be a couple missing features on everyone’s wish list.. Although I developer unlocked my device back in March in order to get to the bottom of the Live Tile debacle., I will admit I was feeling a bit of XDA-Developer withdrawal and was curious to see what the homebrew community was up to. Navigating the registry and viewing the file structure was helpful for my task at hand, but as an added bonus I finally had custom ringtones and custom accent colors. Then I installed the first Mango beta several months back and whoosh, homebrew was gone again, as Microsoft declared all apps that interacted with the registry as being off limits.

After installing the final build of Mango and reading about the hit and miss success with the InterOP unlock process (allowing you to run banned homebrew apps) I decided to take a wait and see approach to homebrew. Well, it appears that I didn’t have to wait very long.

Last week, XDA developer Jerry Jiang released his Screenshot application for Windows Phone. I had tried a screenshot app prior to Mango, but it needed to manipulate a registry key in order to work. So I didn’t hold out much hope for a non-InterOP app. Boy was I surprised. The application works beautifully. Activate the app and for a pre-determined period of time you can navigate to other screens and tap your camera button to take multiple screen shots. Go back to the app, tap the shots that are not worthy and the rest get sent to your Saved Pictures folder. Oh, and no InterOP required. Any developer or Chevron unlocked device can run the app. You can find Version 3.0 here.

Then, just last night, Windows Phone Hacker released their Folder Hub. Because of the InterOP restriction, the app requires an additional PC step, but works like a charm. Download a ZIP to your PC, launch the Folder Config.exe on your desktop and start creating custom app folders. After giving your folder a name, you search Marketplace from within the config tool, and download the name and link for each app you want in your folder. When your finished creating, plug your phone into your PC to launch Zune and click Deploy to move the Folders app to your device. Tap on each of the new folders from within the app and pin to Start. That’s it. You can modify your folders (from the PC) as often as you want. Last night I created folders for all my map/location apps (5), storage/Dropbox apps (4) and Favorites (12). None of the apps I dropped in the folders have Live Tiles, and I was able to reduce my total Start screen tile count from 50 to 38, even after adding three new tiles. And that flipping Favorites tile is really slick. There is one limitation. You can only pin apps from the general Marketplace, so no built-in apps or feature apps from your Carrier or OEM. Same goes for other homebrew apps. There is a workaround where you can modify the XML file, but it was not worth my effort. Like Screenshot, this app only requires a developer or Chevron unlocked device. You can watch a demo video and learn more about the app here.

So there you go. Two great homebrew apps in two weeks. Hope the trend continues. And for the WP purists out there, who don’t believe that anyone should be tinkering with the Windows Phone, remember these apps fall within the guidelines set by Microsoft, so they won’t screw up your device. They are still beyond the scope of Marketplace though so don’t expect to find them there anytime soon. Seems like a good time for that new Chevron unlock tool to make its debut. What are they waiting for.