Toronto – Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) didn’t give a release date for Windows Phone 8 but it did give the world a sneak peek at the device on day two of its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto on Tuesday.
The 16,000 people at the event were given a demo tour of the device,which Microsoft conceded has an uphill battle to fight when it comes tograbbing the attention of consumers.
“Smartphone users today don’t know about Windows Phone and that’s aproblem we intend to fix,” said Thom Gruhler, just 90 days into his newposition as corporate vice-president of Windows Phone marketing, duringa keynote address.
“Windows Phone 8 is businessready,” Gruhler said. “Our push (is) tomake Windows Phone the best enterprise class mobile interface.”
Though no release time frame was provided, Gruhler did show off some ofthe phone’s key features, many of which are shared by the new Windows 8OS that will hit the consumer market in late October. The highlight ofthe demo showcased the live tiles that appear on the start screen ofthe phone. Gruhler demonstrated how they their size and view can becustomized by each user to reduce the need for scrolling.
“It’s the most personal smartphone experience ever,” Gruhler said. “Noother phone has them (live tiles).”
Outlook Mobile and always-on data encryption are also built into theWindows Phone 8. There’s also flexible app distribution, meaningdevelopers can sell their Windows Phone 8 apps directly to customerswithout having to publish them first in Microsoft’s app marketplace.
“We have surpassed over 100,000 apps in our marketplace,” Gruhler said.
Windows Phone 8 will feature near field communication (NFC) so userscan tap and send information and also use Microsoft’s upcoming virtualwallet function, which will include mobile banking, payment transactionand receipt management capabilities.
Windows Phone 8 will be available in 50 languages, “25 more than Appleannounced in June,” Gruhler said.
Speaking of Apple, will Windows Phone 8 be any real competitive threatto the iPhone, which first gained traction as a consumer device beforeeating into the enterprise space courtesy of BYOD?
“I’ve heard some very, very strong things about Windows Phone. It’saltogether possible these (phones) could be poised for one of thesemassive upswings,” said analyst Darren Bibby, program vice-president ofsoftware channels and alliances research at IDC in Toronto.
Bibby was referring to the fact that within just the past five yearsalone, Apple managed to revolutionize the mobile space with the iPhoneand Research in Motion lost its pedestal as king of the enterprisedevice space.
“Are they (ie, Microsoft) the ones to take RIM’s place?” Bibby musedabout whether Windows Phone 8 can pick up some of the enterprise phonemarket share lost by RIM.
The key opportunity for channel partners with Windows Phone 8 is thefact that it will be so well integrated with the rest of Microsoft’sgrowing stable of offerings, including Azure cloud, the upcomingWindows 8 operating system, and the new Surface tablet, Bibby said.
“The thing I like is if I can get Windows 8 on my laptop, tablet andphone then I can start using Microsoft PowerPoint slides across allthree,” Bibby said as an example. “You can’t go very easily between alaptop to an iPad and back to your laptop. It’s just very difficult.But if I can work on my PowerPoint document ….keeping the file formatintact throughout…that is very powerful.”
“If it’s all integrated, that’s been (Microsoft’s) success story,” Bibby added.
Channel partners will also have more opportunities to develop apps forWindows Phone 8 because it shares the same operating platform asWindows 8.
“The biggest opportunity is for people who are going to develop theirown intellectual property. Traditionally that’s been ISVs. There’s justso many apps you can fathom that can go across devices…because there’ssimilar (Windows 8) interface between devices.”
Canadian partner John Kvasnic also welcomes the channel possibilitiesopened up by the integration of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Havingfeatures and functionality so closely meshed for both makes it easierfor partners to develop customized, value-added solutions for clientson those platforms, he said.
“With Windows Phone 8 a lot of stuff is native to the phone,” saidKvasnic, CEO of Toronto-based Navantis Inc., honoured byMicrosoft asits 2012 country partner of the year for Canada. “A lot of things arebuilt into the phone and we build things on top of that…So thatpresents a lot of opportunities for us.”
What Kvasnic still wants to hear at WPC – but hasn’t – is an indicationof when Windows Phone 8 will be released. He anticipates there will besome hardware “compatibility challenges” between Windows Phone 7 andWindows Phone 8 and wants to be prepared for them in advance.
“So a release date would help on that level. Just understanding whenit’s coming will be very helpful for planning.”
Kvasnic also feels that so far, WPC hasn’t featured a simple, unifiedstory from Microsoft that can grab the attention of both consumer andenterprise customers the way Apple has done with its devices and apps.He recalls a short promotional video Microsoft released a few years agoshowing various ways its technologies could help people throughout thecourse of an ordinary day.
“Apple’s done a very good job of doing that. They show ‘how does itmake your life better.’ Give me the whole story and show it to me allend-to-end,” Kvasnic said.
“The perception out there is that Microsoft is not cool,” he said.“They have all the right pieces. The technology is awesome. (But) a lotof it will be about communication (of that message.)”
Kvasnic communicated that message of his own directly to Microsoft CEOSteve Ballmer when the two were seated together during a meal on dayone of WPC. There are still two days left at WPC for Kvasnic to see ifthat simple, unified Microsoft story will be told during the Torontoevent.