Mobility News from Microsoft, Verizon, Adobe

Last week saw the emergence of several major news items in the mobility world, all of which have something to do with Microsoft Exchange Server. Of course, it's no coincidence that these things happened during the same week, but the overlap is pretty interesting.

First, Microsoft delivered on its promised release date for Windows Mobile 6.5, along with the launch of its new "Windows phone" branding campaign. Because of the way that Windows Mobile is built and released, Microsoft actually shipped the bits to OEMs about six months ago. The OEMs, such as HTC, integrated their device-specific drivers and extensions, then the mobile operators (e.g., AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile) added their customizations and extensions. That process gives the OEMs and mobile operators great flexibility, but it also raises one of the biggest complaints about Windows Mobile: Mobile operators have shown a great degree of ingenuity and capability when it comes to taking a perfectly functional Windows Mobile build and crapping it up with all sorts of add-on icons, programs, and general junk.

From an Exchange perspective, the big news in Windows Mobile 6.5 is its dramatically improved version of Outlook Mobile. Sporting an Outlook 2010–like conversation view, SMS syncing with your primary mailbox, an inline player for voicemail, and a ton of other features, Outlook Mobile is one of the best things about Windows Mobile 6.5, especially because it can be upgraded over the air. In fact, Windows Mobile 6.1 devices can get in on the fun, too, using Exchange 2010's ability to provide a bootstrap loader that the mobile device can use to download and run the correct version of the Outlook Mobile 6.5 installer.

For the second piece of news, Verizon (which launched a Windows Mobile 6.5 device last week) announced that it was planning on releasing new devices based on Google's Android OS. This news is interesting for a couple of reasons. One reason is that the base Android OS doesn't include Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) support, although HTC includes EAS support in some of its Android phones (and although there are several third-party Android EAS clients available). Verizon is now in the enviable position of supporting three families of Exchange-capable devices: BlackBerry, Android, and Windows Mobile. That doesn't seem to leave much room for the rumored Verizon version of the iPhone. Separately, Verizon introduced a new campaign criticizing AT&T's well-known 3G network problems; it'll be fun to see how that plays out in the coming months.

The third mobile news item last week came from Adobe, who announced that it's going to deliver Flash runtime capability for Windows Mobile, Android, Palm webOS, and BlackBerry devices. Apart from opening up the floodgates for poorly written Flash-based games, this development introduces the possibility that we'll see social media applications—such as the very popular TweetDeck app, which is built on Adobe's AIR technology—that take greater advantage of the wealth of data stored in Exchange databases via mobile devices. (Personally, I sure would like to see a mobile-device equivalent of the managed version of the Exchange Web Services library.)

As a final note, Motorola vice president Christy Wyatt was quoted in the press as saying, in reference to the number of mobile operating systems, "We just don't believe long term it's going to be sustainable . . . you'll see the number go from 10, down to 8, down to 5, down to hopefully 2 or 3." We'll see if she's right.

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