25 Jun Windows Phone 8: The New, Cooler Blackberry For Business… Maybe
I’m sure most of you would remember the days where the Blackberry was the busy professionals best friend and essentially personal assistant. It was also very popular with IT, with its own dedicated server to manage hundreds of devices seamlessly with the added bonus of top notch security features. All in all, enterprise loved the blackberry.
Enter the consumerization of IT and the iPhone.
While the iPhone is certainly a fantastic smartphone, it hasn’t quite reached the level of enterprise compatibility that the Blackberry had. But, it’s cool so who cares really? Well, the IT department of course. Sure there are apps or other workarounds for IT to manage iPhone fleets, but security and user management is nothing short of challenging. Don’t get me wrong, the iPhone is an excellent productivity and collaboration tool, however iOS essentially wasn’t built for business.
While I don’t want to jump the gun and proclaim Windows Phone 8 as the best thing since sliced bread for business, some of the features announced at the Windows Phone Summit yesterday for the “Apollo” operating system update definitely gives us hope that Windows Phones may excel in the business market.
To give you a quick snapshot, Microsoft announced encryption, secure boot, a company hub and new way to privately load apps as new features coming to Windows Phone 8. Devices running this OS are going to inherit a few of the security features from the Windows NT core, as they replace Windows Embedded with the Windows NT kernel. The WP8 encryption will feature a secure key, which is derived from BitLocker (full disk encryption feature available on the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows 7, Vista and Windows 8), which certainly adds a welcomed level of security for IT.
Microsoft will also make changes to the private sideloading capability, which enables developers to load their apps directly to a handset without going through the Windows Marketplace. This means that businesses will be able to become a “registered app provider” for Windows Phone 8, allowing them to circumvent submitting their apps through the Marketplace. Great for companies that have developed their own apps.
“You will be able to do this through your own catalog,” said Alan Meeus, Microsoft Senior Product Marketing Manager. “Today, you do this (via) a hidden app in the Marketplace.”
The only catch is that you will have to pay a yearly subscription fee, which according to Meeus will be “nominal.” There will be a way to certify your own applications and tokens for phones of those who are testing and/or installing those apps.
Custom Company Hub
Microsoft unveiled another feature certain to appeal to many IT departments, which is the custom company hub. The custom company hub is a Microsoft- supplied mock-up image, which is the business equivalent of the Windows Phone gaming hub, by providing an overview of company-specific apps, IT site links and other proprietary information a company wants all employees to access.
Office and Sharepoint Integration
While this isn’t exactly new to the Windows Phone OS, it still asserts itself as an advantage for Microsoft over iOS and Android. Supporting the tools enterprise already use, such as Word, Powerpoint, Excel, will most certainly appeal to business users, as many of the current apps for both Android and iOS that attempt to bring Microsoft Office to their other OS’ can sometimes be clumsy or not entirely user friendly.
Interconnectivity Between Windows Phones, Tablets and PCs
The main selling point of Windows 8 (in all its forms), is the way in which it makes transitioning between devices as seemless as possible. Just how successful this feature will be remains to be seen, but if Microsoft manages to pull it off, it would certainly give a boost to Windows 8 devices in the market. Windows Phone 8 will also support NFC natively, both for secure payments and for transferring content bewteen WP8 smartphones and Windows 8 PCs. While this feature is already available on Android, it is a nice feature to have, particularly as most businesses run Windows on their PCs.
Though Windows based phones offer fantastic enterprise features that may appeal to IT departments, whether or not Microsoft can develop future handsets that entice end users is up in the air. Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia and the announcement that both Huawei and HTC will be offering handsets running WP8, certainly places it in great stead to develop something more appealing to business users than Blackberries. Additionally, the announcement of the Microsoft Surface tablets, with the Surface Pro defining a whole new category of device, which promises the power of an ultrabook with the portability of a tablet, is definitely a step in the right direction for the company. However, whether it can compete with iOS or Android devices is questionable in a market focused on brands.
All of these features provides an optimistic view for Microsoft’s products in the business environment, pointing towards a future in which Microsoft becomes the new, perhaps more sustainable Blackberry for an Enterprise increasingly succumbing to BYOD.
WP8 Not Available To Phones Running WP7
One thing to note, is that current handsets running Windows Phone 7 will NOT be upgradable to Windows Phone 8, but instead they will be given an upgrade to Windows Phone 7.8, which essentially will make older handsets look and feel like a phone running Windows 8 with the inclusion of the new redesigned home screen. The reason for this is that WP 8 supports multiple core processors, higher screen resolutions and NFC, which are things that existing phone don’t have the hardware for.
For a demonstration of WP 7.8 on a Lumia 900 click here.
What are your thoughts? Can Microsoft succeed (and sustain success) in a new era of consumerised Enterprise Mobility?