Windows Phone 7, which launched on GSM networks in the U.S. and elsewhere on November 8, is raising questions as to its intended market. On the surface, it appears to be a consumer device, what with its “Hub” orientation and focus on social networking and movie-friendly design. But there appears to be some depth to Phone 7 that goes beyond just being a game machine, movie player and social-networking device.
One indication that there’s an enterprise-capable phone hiding under all of that is Dell’s announcement that it would dump its corporate BlackBerrys and, instead, begin using Dell’s own Venue Pro. This device uses highly durable glass for its screen; it has a slide-out keyboard similar to that of the BlackBerry Torch; and it runs on T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network. The device isn’t available directly from T-Mobile, which is offering the HTC HD7 Windows Phone 7. However, Dell is promoting the phone on its Web site, with the note that it’s coming soon.
The announcement by Dell is significant in several ways. The first is that Dell wouldn’t make this device its corporate platform of choice if it didn’t support the level of security and software integration that is required for the enterprise. But despite the veneer of social networking, it’s a Windows phone, and earlier versions have been the BlackBerry alternative for years. In fact, enterprises have clung to their older Windows Mobile phones long after they became obsolete because they support security features and applications that those companies need.
It’s reasonably safe to assume (although I haven’t actually tested it) that the new version of Windows for mobile devices will retain those capabilities. Couple that with the Dell phone’s use of T-Mobile’s data network-which is both faster and more reliable than AT&T’s network-and and you’ve got a pretty good platform. While T-Mobile’s network isn’t as widespread as AT&T’s, at least it works when you get access to it.
Of course, Dell likely dumped its BlackBerrys in favor of its own phone for reasons that go beyond Windows. After all, if you plan to sell a device into the enterprise, what better proof do you have that it works than using it yourself? What’s more, Dell has long had a practice of using its own products where it can, even when it means dumping products from other companies to do so.
Dell Unlikely to Save Money in Short Term
In addition, Windows Phone 7 is designed to be integrated into the Microsoft enterprise software world that includes SharePoint and Exchange, and will feature tight integration with Silverlight and .Net. These are features that have little or no use to consumers, but are critical to many enterprise users.
While there’s a lot of talk about how this might save Dell money (one presumes that Dell gives itself a discount), it’s unlikely that this will be the case at least in the near term. There’s considerable cost in dumping its RIM-based infrastructure, its BlackBerry Enterprise Server installation, as well as in retraining users and replacing hardware. While the overall cost might eventually be lower, it probably won’t have much effect in the immediate future.
Beyond those costs, moving to Windows Phone 7 will have other potential disadvantages, such as the lack of tethering and multitasking. The question is whether these will be significant-given that that part of the competitive environment includes the iPhone 4, which is also deficient in these areas.
What’s really stands out as important in examining Dell’s move isn’t really that it’s dumping its relationship with RIM-it’s that the company is moving to a new platform and to a new mobile phone OS that isn’t Android. Perhaps by doing this it’s really aiming at its archrival, HP, which is also rolling out its own HP branded phones that run a new version of WebOS. By embracing a phone that will work anywhere in the world and a carrier that’s well-represented globally, perhaps Dell is looking for a way to create a preemptive strike in the global market where it competes with HP.
If Dell was to stick with the BlackBerry platform, it would be unable to convincingly market to the global enterprise-something HP can already do. But the announcement that Dell is going with its own phone, on a GSM network and with a Windows platform also helps demonstrate that it is ready to compete on an equal footing with Apple and HP. It’s unlikely that Dell would even attempt to compete as a pure consumer device, given its efforts to be a complete enterprise solution in other areas. But by embracing Windows Phone 7 and a phone of its own, it now has the credibility it needs to do just that.