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Amir Zmora
Amir Zmora is an independent consultant for WebRTC and communications and VP Alliances & Partnerships for AudioCodes. Amir is also...
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Amir Zmora | September 29, 2013 |

 
   

Windows Phone 8 Rocks: Does its Road to Success Run through the CIO Office?

Windows Phone 8 Rocks: Does its Road to Success Run through the CIO Office? Windows Phone 8 has all it takes from an OS to become a leader in the market. The lineup of applications will be the make-or-break criterion.

Windows Phone 8 has all it takes from an OS to become a leader in the market. The lineup of applications will be the make-or-break criterion.

The development and release of iOS and Android took place around the same period of time (developed 2004-2005 and released 2007-2008). When these 2 game-changing platforms were starting to be developed and Android acquired by Google, Microsoft already had a mobile operating system called Windows Mobile, but Microsoft missed the mobile platforms train.

Microsoft took different routes to try and overcome its late coming to the new world of mobile platforms, but the market share of Windows Phone 8, the Microsoft new generation of Windows Mobile, is still rather small.

The smartphone OS reality today is of 2 main players, Android and iOS, accounting for 92.5% of the smartphone market, while the rest is...well...others.

But then you need to take a close look at the split of the Android smartphone market. There is one big guy out there called Samsung and all the others are way behind in market share. The Android market is diversified, many brands, many models, many device characteristics and a wide price range.

There are significant differences between the OSs
In iOS, application developer flexibility is limited to a closed sandbox and there is no way to "hurt" other applications and surely no way to change native phone interfaces like the dialer, messaging, FaceTime.... Having said that, in the eyes of the non-techy user, it simply works.

In Android, the story is more complex; its openness holds many advantages for the techy users. It also gives a lot of flexibility to the device manufacturer and to the application developer. But this openness is a double-edged sword. Given the flexibility of Android, application developers can change native phone interfaces. They can take control over your dialer, SMS, contacts and more. I have personally experienced this with a real-time VoIP application that took control over my dialer. It took me a lot of digging until I got rid of that. Helping out some non-techy user, I experienced something similar with a messaging application.

All this got me to the conclusion that Android has taken the smartphone OS market by a storm not because it is the best/ideal OS. It is because there was no other valid OS option for device manufacturers to adopt.

If that is the case, I thought, there must be a third OS vendor that stands a chance to become a dominant player in this market if it plays its cards right. Microsoft looked to me like the right candidate. So I got my hands on an HTC 8x device to play around with, and I've been using it for the last month or so.

The phone itself is not the focus of what I wanted to experience, but I must say I have mostly good things to say about it. It feels great holding it in your hand; it is cool, quick, easy to use, good battery lifetime, great camera. My only comments would be that audio volume could use a small boost (or maybe it is my age) and that a Micro SD card slot would be handy.

Moving down to the OS
I won't presume to give a full in-depth review of the OS; there are many such to be found. What I aim to cover in this section is simply my take on the OS and what can be done to improve its adoption.

Once I got my hands on the device it took me no time to get going, even though I'd never used Windows 8.

It never got stuck or slowed down even when performing tasks my iPhone 4S would usually be a bit slow at, like searching through thousands of contacts.

It has Office preinstalled, so reading email attachments or documents from my Dropbox (there is a Dropbox app) is fun and easy.

After a month of use, the only issue was the lack of some of my favorite applications. If there is one reason why I wouldn't switch to a Windows Phone 8 device, it is the lack of leading applications such as Waze and Feedly, and replacements that just don't reach the standards of the original iOS- and Android-based ones.

The other thing that was really annoying was the fact that every application I installed required to know my location even if it had no real functional need for that. The reason is that on Windows Phone 8 only navigation applications can run in the background; other applications are suspended or terminated when put in background. This deficiency of Microsoft is twofold; they don't make sure that applications declaring to be navigation applications are really such, and they don't have a good background strategy. This is something Microsoft better fix quickly.

My 10 Cents
Given the big gap between the quality of the Windows Phone 8 OS and its market share, there are a few things that in my humble opinion could help it better succeed.

Controlling the HW of the device
This post was originally planned before the acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft so I guess that part is covered now, but there are still decisions for Microsoft to make, and actions to be taken. Microsoft can decide to go the Apple way and limit the OS to their devices, or keep it open. Keeping it open would be my choice. This approach proved right on the desktop (yet Microsoft was never a PC vendor) and for Google with Android.

Having said that, Microsoft should keep close control over the HW spec of the devices to make application development easier, avoiding the QA nightmare that exists today for Android due to device specification diversification. Close control on HW spec would also keep user experience good and consistent.

Things I would include in HW control would be:

* Minimal requirements for some characteristics such as CPU, memory, and different HW accelerated functions, defining probably 2-3 device profiles for phones and tablets, starting from a low cost and ending at Pro for Enterprises.

* Physical characteristics such as screen size and buttons

* Minimal battery life-time

Controlling the user experience
This includes both mandating usage of the Microsoft UI & UX by the device vendors and limitation of the flexibility given to application developers when it comes to interfacing with things out of scope of their application sandbox.

Integration with Microsoft
Ideally, Microsoft should work with Microsoft better than any other mobile OS vendor. This I believe can be one of the winning factors for the company, especially when it comes to enterprise users.

Even though Office comes built in to the OS there are a few annoying things, some even handled better on other OSs.

One such example is synching Outlook contacts subfolders. iOS does this OK; you can select to sync a sub folder. On Windows Phone 8 you sync only the root Contacts folder. I would expect more from Microsoft in their integration with Outlook.

I didn't manage to open password-protected Excel files on other OSs but I expected this to be possible on a Microsoft device. Unfortunately I found this is not possible.

Putting this in short, Microsoft can do more to make users' experience more compelling when using the Microsoft applications on a Microsoft OS.

Enterprise focus
Microsoft has a significant footprint in the enterprise. This includes owning users' desktop through Windows OS, Office and Lync; and providing a hosted offering in the form of Office 365 both by Microsoft itself and through partners. Microsoft also dominates the IT backend with its servers and applications such as Exchange, Active Directory and SharePoint. Becoming the first choice of the IT department could make Windows Phone 8 the new BlackBerry. In addition to best-in-market integration required as mentioned above, 2 other main enhancements are required:

Security--Securing all phones in enterprise-related communication (2 profiles; one of personal activities and contacts, plus activities done with corporate contacts and content).

Management--Integrate the management of the devices by the IT department into the Microsoft enterprise solution.

Applications
This last item is probably the most important one regardless of whether the main focus of Microsoft is consumer or enterprise. Current status is that many leading applications are missing or have a poor replacement.

There is the advantage of code reuse for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 for PC, but that is not enough since the nature of the application is different on PC and mobile. Moreover, many iOS and Android application developers skip the PC altogether. Nevertheless, the benefit of code reuse is yet another good reason for enterprise focus by Microsoft, as in the enterprise PC it is a must.

Microsoft is investing significant dollars in encouraging developers to develop for Windows Phone 8, but to me it looks more like unfocused dollars being spread thin. Giving $100 to an app developer or giving out points based on some developer-achieved tasks for which the developer can get an Xbox or Windows 8 license doesn't look like incentives that would move one to develop for Windows Phone 8. The actions that could increase application development, to my view, are:

* Make everything possible so that the must-have applications will run on Windows Phone 8. This can be through funding the development or putting Microsoft engineers on the job to work with that company and do the development. There have been some actions by Microsoft in this direction, but based on results they are still too little.

* Acquisitions--As in patents where companies invest to create a balance of power so they will not be sued; same applies here. Google has done that with Waze. Microsoft should acquire a must-have app company and create the balance of power mainly against Google who announced they will not develop for Windows 8.

* A porting platform--Microsoft should make life as easy as possible for developers to port from iOS or Android to Windows Phone 8. This can be through a porting tool Microsoft will develop or a multi-platform development tool that will allow releasing applications for the 3 major OSs (iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8) similar to some game development platforms such as Unity. This is surely a significant technical challenge, but the reward to Microsoft can be far more than the investment.

In Conclusion
Windows Phone 8 has all it takes from an OS to become a leader in the market. The lineup of applications will be the make-or-break criterion if it is to become such. Given Microsoft's dominance in the enterprise market, the road to success runs through the office of the CIO.

As for me, I returned to my iPhone end of last week and I already miss that Windows Phone 8-over-HTC 8X experience.

Amir Zmora is the Vice President of Products & Marketing for the Technology Business Unit at RADVISION, an Avaya company.

*Opinions presented in this blog post represent the author's personal views and not necessarily those of his employer.





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