Windows Phone's "Mango" update will offer new features for businesses. Will that be enough to challenge rivals in the space, and fill the vacuum left by Windows Mobile?
Late in 2010, Microsoft sought to position Windows Phone 7
as a consumer device-a smartphone sleek as the Apple iPhone or Google Android.
Advertisements emphasized the baked-in Xbox Live and Zune services.
Windows Phone 7 had the "Office" Hub, with easy access to the
mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and SharePoint. But that consumer
emphasis marked something of a sea change from Windows Mobile, Microsoft's
previous mobile platform, which enjoyed a significant business presence even as
consumers abandoned it for rival offerings.
But businesses remain a key audience for Microsoft products,
so it's no surprise that Microsoft would begin baking productivity enhancements
into Windows Phone-starting with the "Mango" update, scheduled for release later in 2011.
Those new business features include the ability to pin email
folders to the smartphone's start screen, search a server for email items no
longer stored on the device, force emails to obey IT administrators' policies,
and a threading email replies into a "conversation view." Users will also
capability to save and share Office documents via Office 365 and Windows Live
"In addition to helping you stay productive, Mango also
includes new capabilities for IT," Paul Bryan, a senior director of business experience
for the Windows Phone team, wrote in a May 16 posting on The
. "With new features such as complex (alpha-numeric) password
support, Information Rights Management support for protecting e-mails and
Office documents, and support for access to hidden corporate Wi-Fi networks."
Microsoft's Lync Mobile will introduce unified
communications capabilities to Windows Phone. In a May 16 conversation with
eWEEK, Microsoft executives demurred from commenting on how Microsoft's recent
acquisition of Skype will play into Windows Phone, although it's generally
assumed that Skype assets will eventually influence Lync's evolution.
A May 8 edition of the Windows
Phone Dev Podcast
revealed that Mango will include Bing Audio, which allows a
smartphone to identify any songs playing in the vicinity, and Bing Vision, an
augmented-reality feature that lets a smartphone scan barcodes, QR Codes and
the like. That comes on top of multitasking, Internet Explorer 9, and a
turn-by-turn navigation feature with voice guidance.
In other words, there's a reason why "Mango" advances the
version number of Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 7.5-it's a major update, and
indicative of Microsoft's continuing efforts to close the massive software lead
enjoyed by the iPhone and Google Android.
The question is whether consumers and businesses will go for
this giant basket of new features. New data from The Nielsen Company had 6
percent of consumers indicating they wanted a Windows Mobile/Windows Phone 7
smartphone as their next device, compared with 31 percent for Android, 30
percent for Apple's iOS and 11 percent for Research In Motion's BlackBerry.
With more consumers bringing their everyday electronics into
the work environment, and a healthy subset of businesses providing vouchers for
smartphones in lieu of purchasing a companywide set of one particular device,
consumer uptake has the potential to affect which devices end up becoming an
enterprise standard. Apple's iOS and Android have enjoyed the effects of this
"bleedover," with businesses increasing their support for both platforms in
response to their employees' requests.
At the same time, Microsoft needs to make its own push for
that business audience, especially since Windows Mobile is well on its way to
the dustbin of dead tech. Microsoft is prepping developers for the release of
updated Windows Phone Developer Tools, which will (at least in theory) allow
the creation of more integrated and high-performance applications; however, a
number of prominent developers speaking to eWEEK over the past few months have
indicated that the relative lack of Windows Phone uptake within businesses,
coupled with the surging popularity of iOS and Android, have led them to focus
on development for other platforms.
In the context of all that, Microsoft's mission seems clear:
Give businesses more of a concrete reason to
adopt Windows Phone as a corporate device, the better to blunt its rivals,
encourage developers of all-important enterprise apps, and fill the growing
vacuum left by Windows Mobile. But can Microsoft make itself heard in this