Microsoft Steps Into the Mobile UC Ring
Microsoft launched mobile Lync clients for the Apple iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Symbian, and Windows Phone platforms
In what may be the lowest-key announcement of all time, Microsoft launched mobile Lync clients for the Apple iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Symbian, and Windows Phone platforms--as near as I can tell, they didn't even issue a press release. Simultaneously, the company announced an enhanced version of OneNote for the iOS platform. OneNote is a free-form information gathering and multi-user collaboration tool designed to gather users' notes (handwritten or typed), drawings, screen clippings, and audio commentaries and share them with other OneNote users over the Internet. The desktop version of OneNote is available for the Microsoft Windows platform, and the new iOS version is geared to take better advantage of the iPad’s larger screen.
However, what we're interested in is the mobile client for Lync. The clients are not available yet, but advertised as "Coming soon"; you can find availability updates here. Microsoft is clearly hitting the main part of the market with iOS and Android clients, and is including its own Windows Phone O/S on the list. RIM is not ignored but addressed in the notation, "Partner-developed mobile clients will be available for other smartphone platforms." RIM has long integrated with Microsoft’s UC platforms extending back through Office Communications Server (OCS) to Live Communications Server (LCS) and including Lync 2010.
I'm excited about this because each year I have asked Microsoft to participate in our mobility sessions at Enterprise Connect (and "VoiceCon" before that), and each year they have politely declined. Of course I have noted many times that while UC suppliers have been interested in mobility, mobility suppliers (with the possible exception of RIM) have had little interest in UC. Mobile users have flocked to the various consumer-oriented UC and social networking capabilities from Facebook, Foursquare, Google, Skype, and others, but mobile clients that link to enterprise UC platforms have languished.
The challenge for Microsoft is to succeed where virtually everyone else has failed. Virtually every one of the IP-PBX and UC suppliers has mobile clients, some of which work on cellular services exclusively while others can use either cellular or a far less expensive Wi-Fi connection, and some even include the ability to transparently hand off the connection between the two networks. The one thing they all have in common is that almost nobody buys them.
At Enterprise Connect last March I polled the audiences in several of my mobility sessions looking for people who were using mobile UC clients. Of the few thousand people I polled (most of whom were interested in mobility because they were in the "mobility" sessions), I found five users--three owned up that they worked for Cisco. The other two said the deployments were small and sporadic, generally someone working in the IT department who wanted to try it out.
Now if you listen to all those vendors spouting off about how important mobility is to UC, this might come as something of a surprise. A number of vendors have asked me why mobile UC isn't taking off and frankly it's a battle between mobility and UC. All of these mobility solutions involve installing a client on the device that the user must open to access any of the UC features and place calls. Where everything else on the phone works together seamlessly, the mobile UC client is a "foreign entity". So while extending UC capabilities to mobile devices is a great idea, no one is willing to give up this wonderfully integrated user experience that they've grown to love.
That's the challenge Microsoft will be facing, but I'm encouraged at their prospects. Microsoft is having a truly disruptive impact on the communications business by unifying all of these various forms of communications and collaboration along with presence, calendar, and the rest, and doing so independent of the traditional "voice system".
The traditional IP-PBX vendors may not have had much success at mobilizing UC, but a radically different approach to communications may be just the thing we need to finally start bringing mobility into the UC picture in a meaningful way.