Windows Phone 7 for Business today and what’s coming soon

So in my first post for the New Year, one topic that I’m being asked questions on repeatedly is the area of using Windows Phone 7 devices in business.  I had the pleasure of presenting on this topic last night to the NY Enterprise Windows Users Group  on this topic explicitly and the slide deck I used is located here.  This topic has been top of mind with many of the IT pros and consumers I’ve interacted with over the past few weeks, so I thought it would make sense to shed some light on this topic.  I’d really encourage readers to download the Windows Phone for Business slide deck as it really does a fantastic job of covering the many business-class features contained in Windows Phone 7.  Another great place to get introduced to the phone in general is the Windows Phone 7 Website.

As I’ve posted here previously, Windows Phone 7 was released back in November of 2010 and is a clean break from the previous generation Windows Mobile Platform.  While the Windows Mobile platform of the past was almost entirely business-focused in it’s market and design goals, that is not the case for Windows Phone 7.  Windows Phone 7 has hit the market with a decidedly more consumer focused feature set, but also not forgetting about the many needs of the business user.  Having the end user come first is a design principle that lead to the creation of the revolutionary Metro UI which includes the use of Live Tiles and the six Hubs (People, Pictures, Music, Games, Marketplace, and Office) that are included will all variants of the phone.  While many of these features are more consumer-focused, major features such as the Live Tiles and Today screen contain dynamically-updated content that allow the end user that “glance and go” information feed that is very desirable from a business users’ point of view.  For example, during my presentation last night, I demoed the “Lock screen” where after waking the phone up I could see immediately that I had a meeting in progress with the name of that meeting, I had 1 Text message, 4 new emails in my work email account and 2 emails from my personal email account.  The context of the number of emails and text messages was the change or “delta” of each of these items since the last time I looked at the phone.  I was able to get all this information without even unlocking the phone. Pretty cool.

The home screen of the Windows Phone 7 devices is laid out with a customizable collection of static or Live Tiles that can be added, deleted or moved around to suit the end users’ interests.  In general terms, many of the demos delivered by Microsoft personnel show “business” related tiles at the top of the home screen and more “consumer” tiles just a swipe away further down the page.  This layout once again allows the business user to make the hubs, tiles or applications most often used readily accessible on the device once the device is unlocked, giving the business user quick access to their most often used features without having to scroll through pages of icons to find the right application.  For example, on my phone at the top of the home screen I have the Phone app, People Hub, Text Messaging, Outlook Mobile for my work email account, Internet Explorer, Twitter app and the Calendar.  Further down the home screen I’ve got another Outlook Mobile for my personal email, the all important Office Hub, Hotmail, Music and Video Hub, Marketplace Hub, Games Hub, Pictures Hub, and a few other carrier applications I’ve chosen to leave there for now. 

So tell me about the applications for business that come with the phone you say?  There are a bunch right out of the box, and some of them might even surprise you.  Outlook Mobile built into all of the Windows Phone 7 devices is extremely feature-rich and contains tight integration to the person’s Calendar or Calendars.  Viewing meeting requests right in email is critical for the business user, but Outlook Mobile takes it a step further by looking at the time and date of the meeting request and notifying the end user if there is a conflict.  If there is a conflict, a single click brings you to the calendar where the user can decide how to proceed.  Having this type of rich functionality while you’re on-the-go with your Windows Phone 7 device is a business-user must have.  Seeing that you can integrate calendars from multiple places (think multiple Outlook calendars, Hotmail Calendars, etc.) and overlay them on the same view is life-changing when you keep your business and personal calendars separate and can now see them together in one place!  My other personal favorite feature with Outlook Mobile that’s been a long time coming is the ability to have multiple Exchange accounts which was a limitation of the previous Windows Mobile devices.  I have two Exchange accounts I use every day for both my business and personal life, so this feature is a godsend for folks like me.  I’ll be adding both a demo Exchange account and an Office 365 Exchange account to my device soon and there will be no issue since there isn’t a limit to the number of Exchange accounts you can have on your Windows Phone 7 device!  Hallelujah!  

The Office Hub contains mobile versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote as well as a SharePoint Workspace client.  Being able to view and edit richly-formatted Word documents, add comments are core to the Word Mobile application.  Viewing rich data and charts in Excel while being able to edit and change the spreadsheet including formulas is as business focused as you can get.  Seeing, editing and creating PowerPoint presentations on your phone also makes business users rejoice.  SharePoint continues to be one of Microsoft’s quickest-growing applications, so allowing the end user to download, browse, check-in and check-out as well as get local copies of documents stored in Microsoft SharePoint is a business feature quite frankly not available anywhere else. The combination of the rich features of the the applications contained in the Office Hub really lets the business user get real work done on the road.

The People Hub is of particular interest to business users since the People hub combines all of the contacts you have from your various Outlook, Windows Live, Facebook accounts into a single location.  This is particularly useful for the end user since you don’t have to go into a number of different applications to find the person you’re looking for.  Going into the people hub and just hitting the search button to find the person is great for both business and consumer users alike.

So how does a business manage and control these Windows Phone 7 devices from and Enterprise perspective?  It’s probably not a shock to many of you that the answer is Exchange and explicitly the ActiveSync policies that come with the various versions of Microsoft Exchange.  ActiveSync is the clear industry standard for policy management across mobile devices from Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others to hand out and enforce policy on mobile devices.  So what policies are available to Windows Phone 7?  Well, it depends on what version of Microsoft Exchange you have.  There are two absolutely fantastic TechNet articles that get into this topic explicitly, Exchange ActiveSync Considerations When Using Windows Phone 7 Clients which outlines what ActiveSync Policies are supported with Windows Phone 7 and the Exchange ActiveSync Client Comparison Table which compares which ActiveSync policies work across the various mobile clients such as Windows Phone 7, Windows Mobile 6.x, iPhone, Nokia, Google and more.  Definitely check these out.

So what’s next?  What’s coming in the first update for Windows Phone 7?  Well, first off, Copy and Paste functionality, missing from the initial release of Windows Phone 7, this feature set will be added to all Windows Phone 7 devices.  In addition to Copy and Paste, improved Marketplace search and some minor performance improvement tweaks as well.  More details can be found here.

Windows Phone 7 is indeed not just for the consumer as there are many features available in Windows Phone 7 that will cater to your 9 to 5 business life, while not ignoring your 5 to 9 personal life. Enjoy!

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