Windows Phone 8 Heads Off to Work

Part of the misunderstanding over Windows 8 is that Microsoft felt, very correctly, that it needed to focus on its lagging mindshare with consumers, who have been ignoring Windows PCs in lieu of cool new devices like the iPad. But with Windows Phone 8, the software giant is equally correctly focusing for the first time on businesses, a market it virtually ignored with the Windows Phone 7 releases.

The fact that Windows Phone 8 is essentially a version of Windows 8 tailored for smartphones only makes this change all the more delicious. And where businesses can logically be expected to ignore Windows 8 in droves, they’re going to want to pay attention to Windows Phone 8.

Put simply, Windows Phone 8 is the smartphone OS for which Microsoft-based businesses have been clamoring. It’s based on Windows 8 -- real Windows -- and not the sort-of-Windows of Windows CE. It shares the same NT-based kernel, networking stack, security, sensors, multimedia platform, web browser, and other components found in Windows 8 (and RT, the ARM-based Windows 8 variant). This is important on a number of levels, but it means that Windows Phone 8 will share many of the same proven and well-understood technologies from Windows, as well as the same drivers, support for the same services, and more.

For businesses specifically, Windows Phone 8 will offer numerous improvements over Windows Phone 7.x. These include the following.

Micro-SD expansion. Windows Phone 8 will formally support removable micro-SD storage expansion. And because Windows Phone 8 is Windows 8, those cards will be formatted with NTFS and can be moved between devices and PCs for information transfer. Users and business will be able to install apps to the memory card instead of to internal storage, as well.

Device encryption. Like Windows RT, Windows Phone 8 features always-on device encryption that’s hardware accelerated, based on BitLocker (but lacks some BitLocker management interfaces), and works with both internal storage and removable micro-SD-based storage.

Secure Boot. Like Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 will use UEFI firmware and will support the UEFI Secure Boot feature, which protects the device against root-kit-type malware before the OS loads at boot time.

Office 2013 Mobile. Windows Phone 8 will ship with a new suite of Office 2013 mobile apps.

Device management. As you probably know, full-blown Windows PCs can be managed in a very fine-grained manner using Active Directory (AD) and Group Policy (GP). And mobile devices can be managed in rudimentary ways using Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). In addition to providing full EAS compatibility, Windows Phone 8, like Windows RT, will support a new management scheme that sits somewhere in the middle of AD/GP and EAS, functionally. No word yet on the exact capabilities, yet, however, or even the name of this management infrastructure.

Side-loading of apps. Enterprises will finally be able to deploy their own internal apps to devices without having to go through Microsoft’s online store, which is being renamed to Windows Store to match Windows 8. (It’s expected that Windows Intune, which can currently side-load apps to iOS and Android devices, will pick up this capability for Windows Phone 8 as well.)

Of course, these features touch on the basics for Windows Phone 8, and there are a ton of other features that make this coming smartphone OS so compelling. It will offer integrated experiences with Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT tablets and will support many of the same online services, including SkyDrive, Xbox, and Hotmail. It will work as a secondary screen for certain Xbox-based entertainment experiences, which could prove to be a huge differentiator. (Imagine reading up on the Phone about the movie you’re currently watching on the Xbox without doing any manual searching or work.)

Windows Phone 8 will finally address more modern hardware, with support for multi-core processors and HD resolution screens. It will protect your mobile broadband usage from overages with a DataSmart feature that works much like similar functionality in Windows 8. It will use NFC technologies for both tap-to-share sharing functionality and a very compelling Wallet hub that could make credit and debit cards, store cards, coupons and gift cards, and other similar payment forms obsolete. It will integrate with both Skype and third-party VoIP solutions, providing experiences that look and work just like the built-in phone.

For developers, Windows Phone 8 will finally bridge the gap between desktop, tablet, and phone development, and though the version of the WinRT APIs that Phone will use differ somewhat from those on Windows 8/RT, they’re close enough that creating apps for each, and reusing a ton of code, should be fairly straightforward. Windows Phone 8 will also provide access to native C and C++ code for the first time, providing a way to more easily port between iOS, Android, Windows, and Windows Phone.

I’ve written a lot more about Windows Phone 8, so if this gets you going, be sure to check out " Windows Phone 8 Unveiled" and " Windows Phone Summit" and my other Windows Phone 8 articles on the SuperSite for Windows. I’m excited by what I see here, and when you couple that with the fact that most of the end-user experience is waiting on a future announcement, it’s obvious that this is going to be a major, major release.
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