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Windows Phone 7: Cloud in My Pocket

Microsoft delivers a fantastic consumer device with a very respectable level of work productivity built in

After two years with a love-hate (mostly love) relationship with my iPhone, on November 8th I marched into the AT&T store here on Maui and traded up to a Windows Phone 7 device—specifically, a Samsung Focus.

The last week has been a head-over-heels honeymoon, not just with the user experience, the hubs, the tiles, the apps and the wicked fast device, but with an unexpected party to the party—the cloud

Sometimes it takes just the right experience with a technology to demonstrate its power to address certain usage scenarios and folks, I’ve got the Cloud in my pocket… I’m in love, and I’m a believer!

I was the first person on Maui—perhaps in Hawaii—to buy a Windows Phone 7 device.  Much to my dismay, it was clear that some or all of the employees at the store here had never even seen a device in person. 

The displays for Windows Phone 7 weren’t yet assembled, and training had not been delivered to this AT&T store in the middle of the Pacific ocean.  (As an aside… “Really?” AT&T?  Can you imagine rolling out three new devices and an entirely new platform with no proper support on the retail front?)

Luckily, I knew the device I wanted.  I had worked with all three phones while at Windows Connections in Vegas the previous week.  The Focus was the “trifecta” for me—an excellent phone (which the iPhone never was), a superb portable music player, and a very respectable always-with-me camera. 

Luckily, I also had a fully populated “cloud,” though I’d never really stopped to think about it.  I have a Windows Live ID, a Sky Drive to which I publish shared photos for friends by using Windows Live Photo Gallery, and I had a Zune HD until I dropped it in a pool two months ago (a dark day in my life when my $250 favorite-device went diving), so I had a Zune pass. 

Finally, I have Exchange Online, part of Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), soon to be Office365.  While all of these services are cloud services, I never really thought about them that way because the ties between them were loose and not terribly salient to me.

So, back to the AT&T store.  It was 10am, just after opening, and I was working with a friendly employee named Sam who was eager to see his first Windows Phone 7 and to be the first to sell a device in the district.  We pulled the phone out of the box, clicked through the language selection and license agreement screens, and entered my Windows Live ID. 

Not one minute later, all of my contacts appeared, all of my photos were visible on my screen, all of my friends and their activities were visible in my People hub, and my recommended music was streaming from Zune.  Un-frigging-believable.  A bit later (after trying to remember my BPOS server name) my email, calendar, and Outlook contacts were there, overlaying perfectly with my Facebook and Windows Live contacts and calendar.

Other employees crowded around to see the magic.  While I had high hopes for Windows Phone 7, I had no idea that it would be this fast, this beautiful, and that it would stitch together all of my cloud services into such an amazing, unified experience. 

The ties between the phone and the cloud are exceptional and clearly demonstrate the value of the cloud in a way I’ve understood, conceptually, but now I feel them viscerally and I experience their benefit every single hour when something amazing is possible because my PC, my apps, and my phone are all talking through the same set of cloud-based services.

A few days passed, each one unveiling new “oooh aaah wow” moments.  Streaming TV? Done.  Integrated, non-siloed apps, done (bye bye iPhone chicklets!).  Home screen customized for maximum productivity, done. 

My friends who have iPhones were jealous within 2 minutes of seeing how darned productive I could be with typical personal, social tasks.

I added some key apps, and I was curious to note that the “top” apps were mostly entertainment related.  One of my iPhone fanboy friends grudgingly came up with an explanation… The Windows Phone is productive out-of-the-box. 

You can do all the “work” stuff without needing apps, so the app store is for more “fun” stuff.  I’ll buy that explanation (plus the fact that the phone is new and more work apps will come).

Because then I opened up the mobile Office apps.  Wow.  So fantastic to be able to be at a café, clicking through a PowerPoint slide deck while on a phone conference while editing a OneNote notebook, knowing that everything I do is being synched back to SkyDrive and will be immediately available to me on my PC—no email, no apps, just productivity. 

And the mobile view of SkyDrive (using the phone’s browser, which btw I personally think is super) is as productive as it can be.

My favorite personal productive use of the cloud integration is OneNote.  I now have a OneNote notebook shared with my housemates, to keep track of what groceries are needed and what errands need to be run. 

We each can update the notebook on our PCs at home, or on my phone, and I can load the notebook with one click from my phone home screen, in real time.  SkyDrive has become, in one week, such a valuable part of my life that I am planning a major migration of my “files” up to SkyDrive before year’s end… the “anywhere access” of SkyDrive and Windows Live Mesh (or Sync, or whatever it’s being called this week) is ready for prime time.  And I’m actually a fan of the Office Web Apps integration with Windows Live SkyDrive for certain scenarios.

There are still some weak points in the phone.  Copy and paste, yes, but I can wait. 

Searching for apps on the phone is a miserable experience, so I do that on Zune on the PC.  And SharePoint integration at this point requires Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) or forms-based authentication, which is very sad. 

I know that many of these limitations will be addressed with the “big update” in early 2011.

But I admire Microsoft for getting this phone released, with solid code and a truly amazing, innovative user experience that delivers immediate benefits.  The phone is, at this point, a fantastic consumer device with a very respectable level of work productivity built in. 

While there are 2-3 apps on my iPhone that I consider “must haves”, I haven’t actually touched my iPhone (now an iPod, really) in 8 days.  Microsoft succeeded at getting the device across the finish line and I’m very excited to see where they go with it.  It is, in my opinion, an even bigger turnaround and “win” than the Vista-to-Windows 7 turnaround.

In other cloud news, Microsoft is beginning its beta of Office365, the new hosted version of SharePoint, Exchange, Lync, and friends.  I’m excited to dig into that over the coming days, and particularly to see how it integrates with my WinPhone7. 

While I do still believe, to some extent, that that the cloud is really outsourcing by another name  and that the forecast for enterprises is “cloudy with a chance of hype,” I continue to contend that there are many real benefits to cloud services when applied to the right scenarios in the right way. 

Professionally, the cloud will push all IT Pros further towards a business analyst skillset, which is healthy.  But now I also see, and benefit from, the cloud in my pocket… After years of using the cloud, I now “get it” in my soul. 

And it only took a wickedly innovative new phone. 


Read more about Windows Phone 7:

Windows Phone 7 in the Enterprise? by Paul Thurrott: While I've been an enthusiastic supporter of Windows Phone 7 since Microsoft announced the new smartphone platform back in February, it's time for a reality check....


Top 10: Windows Phone 7 Enterprise Features, by Michael Otey: Fast on the heels of Paul's questioning of enterprise use of Windows Phone 7 comes Mike's list of enterprise features--on Windows Phone 7. Go figure....

Windows Phone 7: Is Microsoft Presenting the Right Message?
by B.K. Winstead: For IT pros and developers looking to get the goods on what's going on with Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 platform, Monday's opening keynote address for Exchange Connections (and Windows Connections, and DevConnections, etc.) was the place to be. Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows Phone Program Management, delivered his message to a full house of eager listeners, and Belfiore didn't disappoint. ...



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