The launch of Microsoft Windows Phone 7 has resulted in the usual round of discussions about how it matches up to its competitors, notably Apple and Google Android, but it would be unwise to forget Nokia, still the mobile phone market leader, and their new Maemo. There is also the question of timing, is Microsoft and by the same measure Nokia, too late into the market to change the adoption and momentum of Apple and Google? There is certainly a case to be made that users get to like a particular operating system presentation and interaction and find it difficult to change, something I called ‘the chase for the face’ in a blog back in January 2007 at the start of the smartphone era.
There is no shortage of what I call ‘speeds and feeds’ comparisons around specification and functions, this shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. I thought the lesson that smartphones are bought around their ability to deliver content had sunk in after Apple effectively changed the competitive rules with the iPhone, a point again I have made in a blog early this year. So with this background in mind what did I see in Windows Phone 7 that justifies the question of enterprise or user issue?
You need to understand the Microsoft view of the market to understand the key features and differentiation of their entry into the smartphone OS market. It starts with their belief in the ‘consumerisation of IT’, or in the context of smartphones, maybe this is better expressed as the blurring of the separation of work and home times and activities. Hence people need to be able to treat their smartphone as a lifestyle aid that supports the redefinition of the term ‘at work’ as applying to the activity in their overall lifestyle and not the location or time, and embeds this into their personal home life. Windows Phone 7 has two personalities; a work one and a private one, to help this, and each has features designed to appeal in different ways.
Microsoft’s vision for the consumer is around a consistent, fully integrated, shared environment based on five screens; the phone, the tablet, the PC, the TV, and the Xbox gaming console. I have seen this for real in a demonstration and its stunning, and applied to areas like photos takes capabilities to a new level. But for me personally the integration of key aspects of my life, both business and private, through Exchange was particularly gripping.
Move to the enterprise and the challenges for the CIO in supporting mobile working securely and the whole Windows 7 concept has a further card to play. Essentially a key concept of Windows 7 is its ability to maintain the same concept of a consistent environment to allow an enterprise to create a common policy and management to cover the PC, the tablet and the phone. Now that is a real differentiator! I was struck that a Windows 7 PC upgrade cycle really was a move to creating and supporting a new ‘virtual working environment’ that now supported the smartphone, the tablet, or indeed the user in a common Windows 7 environment!
So is there a down side? Well, yes, right now Apple still leads in the content stakes, and that includes an increasing range of business apps too. SAP has just released its first app for the iPhone available through the ubiquitous Apple App store as an example. However we are still only at the beginning of the era of the smartphone and its capabilities. Having mentioned SAP, which of course through its acquisition of Sybase is racing into delivering its capabilities to smartphones, let’s use its proof of concept pilot to illustrate my point, and note this also delivers augmented reality.
While looking at this, reflect on the intermingling of business capabilities to support being ‘at work’ with private capabilities to support your life outside work. It’s a change that’s happening to all of us and it’s a force that’s redefining what we want from our smartphones.