Will the enterprise and SMBs gravitate towards Microsoft's newly announced Windows Phone 7 Series?
Questions arose about Microsoft's continuing presence in the business-smartphone space after its Feb. 15 unveiling of Windows Phone 7 Series, the company's latest hope for reversing its declining mobile market share in the face of serious competition from Apple's iPhone, Google Android, and BlackBerry. Much of the criticism seemed to focus on the possible reluctance of both the enterprises and SMBs to make a radical upgrade to a completely new interface.
The Windows Phone 7 Series aggregates both online content and mobile applications into "hubs," which are sub-divided into categories that include "People," "Pictures," "Office," "Music & Video," and "Games." The "Office" hub syncs productivity applications such as OneNote with the user's PC, and allows collaboration and access to documents via a SharePoint server connection. Much of its user interface is heavily reminiscent of the Zune HD, Microsoft's portable media player praised for its aesthetics but affected by anemic sales numbers.
Some analysts and pundits feel that the new mobile operating system could have a negative effect on the enterprise.
"The change will not endear Microsoft to its existing base of corporate users who will have to redesign and redeploy their apps if they are to utilize this new platform," Jack Gold, an analyst with J. Gold Associates, wrote in a Feb. 15 research note. "We don't think Microsoft can count on many enterprises making such a transition/upgrade, and most organizations will likely stay with older WinMo versions (especially those using ruggedized devices, e.g., Symbol, or those with apps that can't be easily transported."
If that scenario plays out, enterprise users could potentially jump ship, particularly if there are issues with the ability to run legacy mobile applications on the new operating system. Other analysts feel that Microsoft may have focused on the consumer in this release at the expense of businesses.
"There is no question that Windows Phone 7 Series is geared towards the consumer," analyst Philippe Winthrop wrote in a Feb. 15 posting on the Enterprise Mobility Matters blog. "The amount of time devoted during the [unveiling] presentation [on Feb. 15] to 'Productivity' was disappointing to me. Sure, I'm not expecting to see a full blown technical demo when a company is launching a brand-new platform, but I would have loved to see how an actual email (and not just the Inbox), as well as accepting how a calendar entry looks."
A lack of applications compared to other smartphone platforms may also be a concern with the Windows 7 Phone Series. After Microsoft's press conference, company executives indicated to eWEEK that a mobile applications marketplace for Windows Phone 7 Series would be released at some point before the devices' launch. Presumably, any such online storefront would have to undergo the same ramping-up process that attended Microsoft's launch of its Marketplace for Mobile in October 2009, alongside Windows Mobile 6.5.
Liz Sloan, senior marketing manager for Windows Phone, indicated in a Feb. 16 posting on The Windows Blog that the Windows Phone Marketplace currently offers "over 1245 apps for people to choose from." This is true if you speak Czech, Portuguese, Slovak and other languages for which the store offers a few dozen mobile applications; for U.S.-based Mobile 6.x smartphones, however, that number is 718 mobile applications in 14 categories.
By contrast, Apple's App Store features over 100,000 apps, with research firm IDC predicting in a Dec. 3 research note that the number will expand to 300,000 apps by the end of 2010. The Android Market, for Google Android devices, has seen a similarly rapid rise in its application-addition rate. Combined, that data suggests that Microsoft could have a tough road ahead if it tries to develop a marketplace of comparable size.
But Microsoft may have an advantage in that a good deal of business function seems baked into the operating system from the outset, despite "Office" being restricted to a single hub.
"The main difference is that companies like Microsoft see the smartphone as a device that can accomplish work; Apple is on the other side, saying that we're going to make media devices that you can use to do most of the things you need to do for work," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-It Research, said in a Feb. 17 interview with eWEEK. "Microsoft is drawing a firm line between what their next-generation smartphones are doing and what other people are doing."
While the Zune-derived interface makes devices in the Windows Phone 7 Series more user-friendly, King added, the important point for Microsoft smartphones "is their easy integration with office productivity apps and easy integration with Sharepoint and Exchange environments."
For enterprises and SMBs with a reduced need for legacy applications, that ability to interface through Sharepoint and Exchange, and access Office documents, may prove sufficient. Businesses heavily reliant on older versions of Windows Mobile, however, may have to wait and see until devices with the new operating system release towards the end of 2010.