Microsoft launched its new Windows Phone 8 operating system on Monday, including handsets with a few interesting features for enterprises and even some consumer features that could be used by enterprises.
Joe Belfiore, a Microsoft corporate vice president and head of the Windows Phone program, was the impresario for Monday's launch event, as recorded in the video below.
Companies may find a number of new features useful, including
integration with Skype, which Microsoft bought last year. Skype is integrated into the operating system and works just like placing and receiving regular voice calls. It's also used to send messages.
Microsoft has configured Skype so it doesn't have to be open all the time, draining a phone's battery. When the handset receives a call or message, Skype will wake up. The new feature not only makes Skype easy to use, but also could encourage more video calls and use of low-rate international calls.
Another useful feature is Data Sense, which keeps track of data use, both for specific apps and in total. Data Sense can be displayed in a home screen Live Tile for users to see quickly how much data they're using. It's especially useful for employees who bring their own devices to work and must track their use.
But there's more to Data Sense. The app will compress data transmissions when a user is nearing the allocated data limit, and it will offload data transmissions from cellular to WiFi when it's available. As a result of compression and offloading, Microsoft says, users can do 45 percent more browsing on their data plans. Even enterprises with bulk data packages will appreciate this efficiency, assuming the app works as advertised.
However, Data Sense works only in conjunction with specific cellular services. Verizon Wireless will be the first to implement it. Microsoft didn't disclose when other operators would offer it.
One possibly useful new feature for employees is Rooms, a social networking-type offering for establishing closed user groups to share messages, notes, calendars, lists, photos, and locations. Microsoft promoted this for family members and friends, but it may be used just as easily for employee groups. In addition, iPhone users may be part of these groups and view a subset of the features, such as the calendar and photos.
Belfiore also highlighted sharing of iPhone and Windows Phone 8 data by using Microsoft's new PC and Mac computer software, which transfers iTunes content -- music, videos, documents, etc. -- to Windows Phone 8 handsets. In fact, although Microsoft obviously wants enterprises (and consumers) to be part of the uber-Windows ecosystem, the company is making some efforts to rope in users of other operating systems by emphasizing data sharing.
Unrestricted data sharing definitely is not a highlight of one of the most interesting and useful new features. Windows Phone 8 includes Kid's Corner, which enables parents to carve out a separate section of the handset OS for specific content: apps, games, music, videos. Kids just swipe the phone's home screen and enter the parent-approved section -- without being able to use other content.
Here's the enterprise relevance: Kid's Corner is something like consumer-oriented IT sandboxing. Why couldn't this be used as an enterprise feature for employees to set up corners for different types of users? For example, workers could establish a Boss Corner and a Team Member Corner, so that only certain employees could see specific applications on the phone. There could be a Contractor Corner or Guest Corner for non-employees to access a limited number of apps and the enterprise's open WiFi network. Or perhaps enterprises could take a cue from Kid's Corner and develop their own app.
More prosaic but useful Windows Phone 8 enterprise features include the ability of the OneNote note-taking app to convert spoken notes to text, more safeguards to avoid accidentally wiping the handset of all data, and better malware protection in Internet Explorer 10.
None of these features is a killer app. But when taking all the features into account, plus the better integration of Windows Phones, desktops, laptops, and tablets -- and the design of the OS in general -- enterprises may find Windows Phone 8 a compelling alternative or supplement to their mobile strategies.
There are some good Windows Phone 8 handsets, although the ecosystem still needs more mainstream apps.
HTC has supposedly said it won't offer another high end Windows Phone 8 because the limit on the screen resolution (a maximum of 720p, I think) isn't as high as it would like and, therefore, wouldn't be sufficiently competitive.
With Swype and SwiftKey, I find my finger sometimes gets in the way of seeing the letters -- especially if I'm moving quickly, and I forget whether I swiped over a letter!
With third party keyboards, Android 4.2, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10, gesture keyboards are going to become more popular, or at least more well known. I was pondering whether there could be an IE blog or video about gesture keyboards or perhaps gesture-based computing, but I'm not sure if there's a sufficient enterprise angle.
The stock keyboard works very well. Most of the time its predictions for gesture typing seem to be accurate, and when they're not, they can be erased with a single tap. SwiftKey seems to be accurate less often, and it's harder to replace what it types with what you want it to type.
Also, SwiftKey uses gesture typing for whole phrases, which sounds great in theory, but in fact I find my finger starts to stick on the screen if I'm sliding it around that long! I don't have that problem if I'm only swiping a single word.
I downloaded SwiftKey Flow beta, too. I'm trying it on a Samsung Galaxy S III. Alas, I don't like it, at least so far.
I'm finding the "predictive" keyboard can't even compare to the priestess at the Oracle of Delphi for accuracy! Not only doesn't SwiftKey predict words, but even the words from the gestures on the keyboard are less accurate than Swype. I'm going to play around with the settings to see if I can do any better.
I have only Android 4.1, so I haven't tested 4.2's keyboard, which is supposed to be at least as good as Swype. (I'm pondering getting a Nexus 4, in part because of the Google updates, but I won't get a new phone until perhaps the first quarter of next year.)
There does seem to be a solid group of people who prefer a hard keyboard on their phones. They also have strong preferences on the kind of keyboard they have on their phones.
The Swiftkey Flow beta became available today. I haven't given it a good workout but I've played with it a few minutes. It looks nice.
Swiftkey is known for its great predictive algorithm. And I like the keyboard layout; most of the punctuation and special characters you need are available as long taps on the regular keyboard, no need to switch modes.
The BlackBerry keyboard is the reason BlackBerry is my main phone, although it's behind the times for just about everything else. But I can't work/enjoy the Internet without the "everything else," so I typically carry a second phone with a large screen. Except for typing, BlackBerrys haven't been enjoyable for years, unfortunately. (BlackBerry in a holster and another phone in my pocket. Yeah, it's dorky.)
It's sad there are so few good mobile physical keyboards for people like me who can just about touch type on them and who finds on-screen keyboards to be like 64Kbps mp3 music -- manageable, but not at all pleasant.
Nokia produced some pretty good physical keyboards for Symbian phones (not as good as BlackBerry, though), and it's a shame Nokia isn't offering one for Windows Phone 8. In fact, a real keyboard on a Windows 8 Phone could possibly improve Microsoft's chances in the enterprise. Sure, there's a lot more to success than a keyboard, but combining a good keyboard with Microsoft's mobile enterprise features might help Microsoft become the No. 3 platform.
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