I’m at TechEd in New Orleans this week–you can see my coverage of the show on the SuperSite for Windows–and wanted to discuss some of the Windows Phone announcements that happened today. These announcements are also discussed in a Windows Phone team blog posting by Paul Bryan, who I met with today.
To summarize the plan, Microsoft is approaching Windows Phone business functionality in the same way that it is approaching the phone generally. That is, they are focusing on core scenarios only in the first release, and intend to nail those experiences. But they are also (temporarily) ignoring some less-necessary scenarios/functionality as a result.
This approach is, I think, the right one. But it does open up Windows Phone to some easy criticism. This is a very basic reality that we’re just going to have to deal with. And hope, of course, that Microsoft works to rapidly close the gaps after the initial Windows Phone release later this year. Time will tell.
Anyway, here’s what they announced, based on the notes from my meeting.
Smart design. Windows Phone is designed to meet the needs of business customers, with information worker capabilities around email, calendar, and contacts, integrated to make it more effective and efficient at doing everyday tasks. It’s a great system for one-handed email triaging (like the iPhone, and unlike Windows Mobile). It provides simple, clear views of all your email, urgent email, flagged email, and so on. You can select multiple messages easily, and deal with them in a batch format. There is deep integration with Exchange Server, mapping all of the information from the server to the phone user experience. There is also integration between calendar and email, so that when you get an email with scheduling information, you can see if there is a conflict in your schedule right there in the email, and resolve the conflict if there is one, all without leaving the message. Windows Phone supports multiple email accounts, including Exchange, and you can view them all in a single view if desired.
Integrated experiences. In keeping with the Windows Phone panoramic experience model, the Office hub brings together integrated experiences around Office and the documents you have on your phone. From the OneNote pane, you can take notes, take photos, and combine them with text notes and voice notes, and sync with your PC. There’s also deep integration with SharePoint, and you can sync documents and use them offline with your phone. (What’s missing, curiously, is deep integration with SkyDrive for consumers. This could change, but I believe that won’t be available in generation 1.)
Distribution of private applications. Microsoft hasn’t finalized its plans yet, but businesses that standardize on Windows Phone need some way to securely distribute private (in-house) applications to employees. The most likely scenario is modeled after a program that’s available now where developers can ship beta versions of apps to a select group of users outside of the Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Basically, they email people a link. When accessed on the phone, you are directed to a private area of the Marketplace where you can download the app. There will be more work around this area going forward.
Management. Microsoft will provide businesses with a core set of management capabilities for Windows Phone that includes such things as PIN and password enforcement, the ability to reset a device to factory settings, remote wipe, and so on. There is Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) management policy support, but only around core scenarios, those things that businesses use most.
The message here, again, is that Windows Phone 7 will hit the high points. But it will be a subset of Windows Mobile 6.5, from an enterprise management perspective, and for this (and other reasons), Windows Mobile 6.5-based devices will continue to hit the market and be supported for some time to come.
My expectation/hope is that Microsoft improves Windows Phone rapidly to close the gaps. But again, it will be easy to criticize this system until those gaps are closed. I think it was the right decision. But it’s hard not to keep drawing a comparison with the Zune 2.0 PC software, which was also rewritten from scratch. It was beautiful but lacked some key features. Over time, they fixed it. But two years later, it’s still gorgeous and functional, but missing a few things (compared to WMP, Media Center, whatever). I hope they can do better with Windows Phone, if only because the market for these devices is potentially so much bigger.
So that’s all for now. :) Back to the show…