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Microsoft Gets a Whole Lot More Mobile Friendly

One of the elements key to the success of the Apple ecosystem is the way all of the pieces link together. Sure, you can sync your iPhone or iPad to your Windows PC, but you get a lot more functionality if you link it to a Mac. It's all about boosting mobile productivity rather than selling handsets, which is an idea Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella seems to get.

Apple started by allowing Mac users to log into the same iCloud account they had set up for their iPhone and iPad so they could send and receive text messages on any of their devices. Then Apple let users tether their iPhones to their Macs so they could send and receive Apple Messages texts and SMS messages to and from users who weren't lucky enough to have an iPhone. Finally, for a certain set of applications, it provided "continuity," or the capability to start a task on one device (e.g., a Mac) and pick it up at the same point on another (e.g., an iPhone or iPad). I've taken to calling that capability "device fluidity."

Microsoft last week announced that a similar capability, called Phone Companion, will be forthcoming with Windows 10. Best of all, Microsoft isn't requiring that users change to a Windows Phone device, as it will offer compatible Phone Companion apps for iOS and Android devices, too. The capability will be similar to Apple's but will work through OneDrive rather than iCloud -- no surprise there.

As you can learn about it the video below, once you have the OneDrive app correctly set up on your phone, every photo you take from that device will show up automatically in the Photos app on your Windows 10 PC. With the upcoming version of the Music app, you'll be able to store and access your music from OneDrive not only on your PC and Windows Phone device, as you can now, but also on your iOS or Android phone. And, you will be able to see notes taken on your phone in your Windows 10 PC, and vice versa. You will also be able to work on Office documents from any of your devices, without having to transfer them between devices.

Nadella seems to be taking a new and more open view of Microsoft's role in the mobile world. The latest mobility moves signal a recognition that Microsoft is not going to be a key player in the mobile device world anytime soon and that jumping on the two trains already rolling down the tracks -- iOS and Android -- is the quickest way to success. Some mobility watchers have even been speculating that Microsoft is pursuing an acquisition of BlackBerry, but such a strategy sounds like shooting yourself in the foot and following up by aiming at the other one!

Clearly both Windows Phone and BlackBerry have missed out on the app revolution, and unless a tectonic shift in the mobile market renders apps irrelevant, they are essentially out of the game. Rather than crying over spilt milk (or a dopey $7.2 billion investment), Nadella is aligning his strategy with the mobile options driving the market, iOS and Android. His plan is to make Microsoft's products work in the environments that are successful.

One Move Among Many
This isn't just about Phone Companion, either. In December 2014, Microsoft bought Acompli, an excellent email app for iOS and Android devices; it didn't disclose terms, but I'm sure it spent less than $7.2 billion on the purchase. It then changed the name of the app to "Outlook," and it is miles ahead of the native email app on iPhone (I haven't tested the Android version). By some indecipherable means, the app figures out what emails are important to you and presents them as "Focused" while the rest are classified as "Other."

Then in February, Microsoft acquired Sunrise, a calendar app for iOS and Android. I'm not as fond of Sunrise as I am of the iPhone calendar, so have switched back to the native app. The New York Times, however, called Sunrise a favorite among in a December 2014 piece, "Best Calendar Apps for Setting Your Agenda for the Days Ahead."

Probably the biggest change at Microsoft is the retirement of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's "devices and services" mantra. Nadella is instead talking about "software and services" and "mobile first" -- even if it's not "Nokia mobile."

Like elsewhere in UC mobility, the Skype for Business mobile client is still a nonstarter. However, the regular Skype client is clearly the world's leading mobile device communications app, at least based on usage. Nadella seems to grasp Microsoft really doesn't need (or profit from) its own mobile device. Rather, the focus is on increasing the value of the company's overall productivity suite, regardless of what it runs on -- a good move for a "software company."

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