When Windows Phone 7 devices arrive this holiday season, they will be diving into crowded U.S. consumer waters full of CrackBerry addicts and iPhone fans.
But it’s not as if Windows Mobile is a smartphone also-ran. Today, Windows Mobile owns 15.1 per cent of the market, according to comScore’s most recent numbers, putting Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) in third place behind RIM (42 per cent) and Apple (25.5 per cent). Google‘s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android platform is moving up at nine per cent, in the fourth place slot.
But the Windows Mobile platform has its work cut out for it. Recent surveys and analyst reports portray Windows Mobile as out of the loop and sorely lacking the brand loyalty of RIM‘s (TSX: RIM)and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL). There is also the added challenge that applications compatible with Windows Mobile 6.5 or older will not run on Windows Phone 7 devices.
Yet positive overall reviews for Windows Phone 7’s look, feel and functionality have shifted momentum. And if Microsoft doesn’t win over the hearts and minds of consumers right away, the company believes it has an ace in the hole: the enterprise.
Here Redmond has a long-established ecosystem in place that it can integrate with Windows Phone 7 devices. The goal with the Windows Phone 7, according to a blog post written by Paul Bryan, senior director of Microsoft’s mobile communications group, is to “address the needs of customers with active personal and business lives who desire a single device that navigates seamlessly between work and play.”
At the TechEd conference this week in New Orleans, Microsoft revealed a few visual changes to Windows Phone 7 and outlined how the mobile platform will meet IT’s integration needs by combining a new design interface with tighter integration with Exchange and Exchange ActiveSync, Outlook, PowerPoint, SharePoint, Word and Excel.
In an interview last week at the Redmond campus, Microsoft’s Bryan shared with CIO.com three reasons Windows Phone 7 is more armed and ready for the enterprise than any other smartphone.
1. New Design Will Improve Employee Productivity
The Windows Phone 7 homescreen is organized around live tiles — dynamic icons that update automatically.
The tiles lead to what Microsoft is calling hubs, which are menu areas that collect data based on functions, not applications. For example, the People hub is not just a list of contacts, but a real-time stream of updates about your friends that have been pulled in from Facebook or Windows Live.
There is a tile for People, Pictures, Games, Music + Video and Marketplace. But the tile businesses users and IT managers will be most interested in is the Office tile.
The Office Tile leads to the Office Hub, where business users can manage all their Office documents and sync them to their PC using Windows Live Skydrive or through SharePoint Server. You can access Office documents that you receive in an e-mail or that are posted in SharePoint, make changes to the document on the phone and sync it back to SharePoint. At the same time, the SharePoint client is on the phone itself so any update to Office docs in SharePoint can be viewed and edited on the phone.
“You can access behind the firewall documents that you can keep updated and synced, as opposed to, say, a Web interface that can only get you so far in terms of access to viewing,” says Microsoft’s Bryan, referring to how far you’ll get with a non-Windows phone, which often use third-party software to view Office documents.
2. Integration with Microsoft Ecosystem
Microsoft aims to enhance Windows Phone integration with e-mail, calendar and contacts with Exchange Server and improve document sharing and collaboration with SharePoint Server. Both can be accomplished on-premise or in the cloud.
Also from within the Office Hub in Windows Phone 7, business users can access BPOS, Microsoft’s business productivity online suite that offers cloud-based versions of Exchange and SharePoint.
Outlook e-mail and calendar integration are key business features of Windows Phone 7, says Bryan. For example, business users can mark an e-mail as read or unread or flag it as important, and it will be replicated to a user’s desktop. Also, mobile Outlook for Windows Phone 7 has merged e-mail and calendaring so that if there is a calendar conflict it shows up in an e-mail that takes you right to the calendar appointment, rather than your having to find the appointment to see if there is a conflict.
The ultimate advantage of Windows Phone 7 devices, Bryan says, is that most IT departments won’t have to change their existing infrastructures to use them.
“It works with Exchange; it works with SharePoint,” he says. “It doesn’t require middleware or other software to actually do the things we’re talking about. You don’t have to learn something new, or buy something new.”
3. Protecting Corporate Information
Microsoft says Windows Phone 7 will help IT protect corporate information by securing the devices through PINs and passwords, while limiting the unwanted transfer of data by no longer allowing access to data through PC tethering or support for removable SD cards.
In addition, Windows Phone 7 supports IT-managed Exchange ActiveSync policies such as Require Password, Password Policies, Remote Wipe, and Reset to Factory Settings if there are repeated failed attempts to unlock the phone.
Windows Phone 7 helps ensure data reliability through application sandboxing and managed code so IT can ensure that communications channels between applications can’t be opened and system resources can’t be accessed.
For additional security, Windows Phone 7 Marketplace uses certification and verification of applications and content. Data transmission is secured through SSL Encryption 128/256 Bit and access to on-premise applications is made secure using Forefront UAG (Universal Access Gateway).
Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.