If you know me, you will know that I’m a bit of a technologist and like to see new things and figure where the market is headed. In mid-2007 I happened to be in Los Angeles and I bought one of the first iPhones and took it back to the UK. Very quickly it was clear to me that Apple had created something that was a shift in the market: they had produced a phone which put usability first, and features second. This ha
Fast forward 3 years and when I saw the press release for Microsoft’s “Windows Phone 7 Series” devices earlier this year, I thought they had finally killed themselves out of the Enterprise Mobility market. Let’s face it, Microsoft have been polishing the proverbial on their Enterprise Mobile platform since they released Windows CE 1.0 in 1996. Back in 2003 the usability of devices was pretty acceptable and their market share was excellent in 2004 at 23%. These numbers are difficult to measure because it depends on what you define as a market and a smartphone, but we know it has been dropping year on year and sits at around 10% now. Considering that there is a big legacy base of organizations that have to buy these devices for their existing apps, it is clear that MS are in trouble.
Somewhere through the build of Windows Mobile 7, which was designed to replace 6.0, Microsoft finally smarted up to the fact that they were getting a killing from Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android and scrapped the whole platform, to start from scratch. They broke application compatibility which means they don’t have to try to support the legacy of mess that they created and went about creating a world class mobility platform. If you take nothing else from this article, know that WM7 shares nothing but its name with its predecessors.
So when the first devices came out last week, I knew I had to have one, if only to see whether they have managed. So far I have two solid conclusions:
- Windows Phone 7 is a game changer. It outclasses anything else in several key respects, although it is still immature and needs work.
- Microsoft needs to partner with people who make premium devices. The HTC HD7 device which is available on my network sucks.
So why is it a game changer?
If you have seen our Demo Jam submission in TechEd 1010 Berlin, you will know that we believe that Situational Mobility is the way of the world. The key premise is that my mobile device should support me “in the moment”. Take a look at what this means on the home screen: really simple. The picture shown tells me exactly what I need to know: that I should be in a meeting. Obvious, I know, but a sign of things to come.
It’s the same all the way through the experience. You get in, get what you need, and get back to life. The concept of silos of apps that you get in the iPhone is gone because there is a seamless move from one screen to another.
And then there’s the social media integration. When you setup accounts, you setup your Facebook & Windows Live accounts too. So you have one contact list including all of those people, and the people in your Microsoft Outlook estate, and it gives you a stream of consciousness of what is going on with those people right now.
What’s better than any other platform?
Other than the fact that Microsoft get situational mobility, there are several ways in which Windows Phone 7 knocks the competition out the market:
- Corporate email. This is the best Microsoft Exchange client out there, bar none. Things like being able to do a custom folder list, proper rendering of complex emails and the ability to swipe through different filters “all, unread, flagged, urgent”. Outlook Mobile kills anything else out there.
- Office documents. Again by far the best implementation ever. I don’t really care for editing Excel spreadsheets on the move (though it supports it) but the quality of the screen real-estate means complex Excel files are readable. And it synchronises with Microsoft Sharepoint and Office Live so you can keep all your documents in the cloud.
- Lync. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Microsoft’s replacement to Office Communications Server is will offer a full fat app for Lync on Windows Phone 7. Lync goes RTM soon so we will see what it offers.
- The advert. I’m sorry but the Windows Phone 7 advert is the best piece of marketing this year. Cracks me up every time.
So what’s missing?
Actually I don’t want to get too bogged down by this because this is Version 1.0. There will be lots of people complaining on the internet that it doesn’t have some smorgasbord of blah blah blah. In the end it doesn’t really matter because Microsoft will, like Apple before them, listen to the haters and add that stuff into future versions. If you’re considering in buying a device then one of these might be a deal breaker:
- Copy and paste. Apple didn’t have this until 2.0 and Microsoft don’t have it yet. Oh well.
- Decent calendar. The calendar is nearly a deal breaker for me because it’s just not any good. I need a simple weekly view so I can flick through and arrange appointments. WP7 only offers me a Daily agenda (too detailed) or Monthly overview (good luck reading the text).
- Decent browser. Internet Explorer 8 Mobile is poor compared to Safari Mobile. Enough said.
- Elements of usability. There are places where shortcuts should be able to be made. It’s not awful but sometimes it feels like you have to make one tap too many. Microsoft need to get real people in the usability labs (that’s an offer, if you want me there) and profile them.
- Apps. The number of apps available right now is a bit unclear but we think it’s about.
What about integration with SAP?
The development platform is Silverlight based and supports RESTful services so it should be easy to integrate with SAP using the new Project Gateway. Also the browser is HTML5 (ish) compliant and so HTML5 web apps should run fine.
But there’s a serious problem because the new SAP Mobile Business Unit is going to be behind the game here. They have support for Windows Mobile 6.0 and Blackberry, and for iPhone (sort of), and for Android (OK, not yet but it’s in development). The problem is that Windows Phone 7 requires a whole new development for them. And this means that support on the SAP Unwired Platform (formerly Sybase Unwired Platform) won’t be with us any time soon (think Q4 2011 or Q1 2012).
More about this in a later blog.
And now onto HTC
There are only a few devices on the market right now, and only one on my Service Provider. Microsoft were smart and set the bar high for what a Windows Phone 7 device must have:
- Capacitive, 4-point multi-touch screen with WVGA (800x480) resolution
- 1 GHz CPU with DirectX9 rendering-capable GPU
- 256MB of RAM with at least 8GB of Flash memory
- Accelerometer with compass, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor and Assisted GPS
- 5-megapixel camera with LED flash
- FM radio tuner
- 7 dedicated hardware buttons - back, Start, search, camera, power/sleep and Volume Up and Down
This means that only the very latest current devices can support WP7 and it shows. The HTC HD7 has everything but the kitchen sink in it. For instance, I now have it sat on my desk blaring out Muse in SRS Surround Sound, held up using its own kick stand. Shame the Zune audio player doesn’t auto-rotate but you can’t have everything!
The problem is that the HTC device just isn’t the premium device that we’ve come to expect. It retails (for device-only purchase) at £375 against Apple’s £475 for a 16Gb device and it feels it. Part of the problem is in the “feel” – it doesn’t feel tactile, it’s hard to turn on and easy to catch your palm against the face and catch the wrong button.
But it also doesn’t’ feel like a quality device and this is borne out by the fact that I’ve only had mine for 3 days and I’m already on my second device. And this one looks to be suffering from the same problem: intermittent call quality problems when on a wired headset. The sorts of people who are going to be buying it aren’t going to put up with that and HTC should know better.
Microsoft have changed the face of Enterprise Mobility today with the release of Windows Phone 7. It will take some time but a serious competitor has come along to the market and there are now 4 credible players: RIM, Android, Apple and Microsoft. To ensure success Microsoft need to start innovating fast and provide a sequence of fast updates which provide incremental value and fixes to the platform – most importantly of all, without breaking devices.
But with it, it’s clear that they need to find hardware partners that can compete with Apple on quality and premium feel. It’s true that HTC has come a long way from the first device I bought from them, the Orange SPV (which was made by HTC). But they have to get out of the mentality that “alright” is good enough. This isn’t how the consumers think and they will vote with their wallets.