In San Francisco yesterday, Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8 in an exciting event that highlighted a bevy of new features and functionality, underscoring the fact that in this smartphone, the world has an Apple iPhone/Google Android alternative that is an almost completely under-the-radar work of tech art. And considering Microsoft’sWindows 8 and
Surface tablet announcement blitz that occurred over the past week, we can only hope that the rest of Earth recognizes what a few of us have understood for a couple years: Although Microsoft was late to market in the smartphone arena, it has been putting a lot of careful thought into the notion of a converging tech world and—with its decades of personal-computing experience behind it—has come up with a powerful, connected-though-individualized smartphone in Windows Phone 8.
“People all around the world are about to fall in love with Windows Phone 8,” said a typically exuberant Steve Ballmer at the close of the show. In a perfect world, that would be true. Will it actually happen? Microsoft is sure devoting the ad dollars to it! Ballmer went on to say, “You won't be able to turn on a TV or open a magazine without seeing a Windows ad." And there have already been a plethora of fantastic ads about the new phone, the new tablet, and the new OS. Check this one out:
As echoed in that brand-new Windows Phone 8 ad, the primary message of the event was the positioning of Windows Phone as a phone for YOU rather than a phone for anyone. As I watched the launch event, I processed that bit of messaging from the perspective of the business user—say, the IT pro.
What are the features of Windows Phone 8 that might persuade an Android or iPhone user to make the switch? To anyone paying attention, there are quite a few. Here are some of the top ones.
The Windows 8 OS. You’re already running Windows in your environment, so there’s a comforting sense of convergence in the fact that Windows Phone 8 can be considered simply another product edition of Windows 8. According to Paul Thurrott in his article “Welcome to Windows Phone 8,” “Windows Phone 8 utilizes the same hardware drivers and technologies, a stunning amount of overlap that will make the handset platform a much more obvious choice.” There's even a Windows 8 Phone app for the Windows 8 desktop that’ll let you move content between your phone and desktop to manage your phone. Microsoft also promised that developers would be able to port Windows 8 apps easily to Windows Phone 8, thanks to the fact that the two OSs use many of the same developer tools.
Microsoft Office integration. We’ve known about this one for a while, but Windows Phone 8 ups the ante with a new-and-improved non-ad-supported Office hub. The hub—where you access Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Excel—has been redesigned for Windows Phone’s signature fluidity and simplicity. Combined with the phone’s autodiscovery of your existing Office apps through SkyDrive or Office 365, this is a big win for this phone. Your documents just “travel with you,” and Windows Phone 8 gives you the best Office document rendering on any phone. Which makes sense. You can check out the enhancements at the Office Next blog.
Email support. Windows Phone 8 provides comprehensive email support through Outlook Mobile. You can receive all mail in one Inbox or separately by account. And it’s all displayed on a smooth interface that delivers threaded conversations. If you're running an Exchange Server 2010 back end, you have access to just about all of your services.
An integrated Skype client. At yesterday's event, Joe Belfiore—manager of the Windows Phone program—announced a new Windows Phone 8 Skype client that keeps users signed on to Skype even when the app is closed, so people are always reachable. According to Mary Jo Foley in her article “Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8: What’s new for business users,” “Skype calls will remain active even if/when users navigate away from Skype. Users can receive Skype calls and chat updates while their phones are locked. The Skype app stays ‘asleep’ in the background until it's woken up by an incoming chat or call, reducing battery usage.” You’ll see your Skype contacts displayed in the People Hub.Security. Data security is essential in the business environment, so Windows Phone 8 offers full device encryption based on BitLocker, for securing both the OS and applications. Thanks to the common Windows core, Windows Phone 8 also supports secure booting. The SafeBoot feature on Windows Phone 8 gives you a safe way to launch the OS and ensure that only trusted components get loaded. Windows Phone 8 offers a security model that’s unlike those of any other smartphone on the market, and enterprises can be sure that their data is safe from malicious applications.
As much as I’m loving the idea of a smartphone that’s individualized and customizable for me in my personal life, I also admire the attention that Microsoft has paid to the phone’s productivity features. I’ll feel comfortable taking this phone to work, and my IT department will feel comfortable allowing me to do so.
The question is whether a whole lot of other existing Windows users will feel the same way. Microsoft is devoting a vast marketing sum toward the effort of convincing those users, and this particular Windows Phone user hopes that those dollars have a strong effect. Microsoft was late to the game, but they finally have a strong shot at winning it.