Those following the battle of the mobile operating systems know the conventional wisdom about Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform – it arrived late to the game, it suffers from a dearth of applications and hardware partners, and it’s stuck in distant third place behind Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. There is no denying that Microsoft neglected the mobile market for too long, then lost further credibility with an operating system that lacked key features enjoyed by its competitors (such as a proper notification center).
In many ways the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 release is only playing catch-up, and its rivals will certainly not be sitting on their hands in the meantime. Yet the current security-conscious environment and the need for an enterprise-ready mobile solution puts Windows Phone in a unique position from which to grow.
An Increased Demand for Secure Computing
Hackers, leaks, and government surveillance (both foreign and domestic) all mean that companies’ data is more at risk than ever. At the same time, the threat of civil and criminal litigation for failing to protect against data breaches means companies have a lot to lose in terms of time, money and reputation. This goes double for firms dealing with sensitive national security data, such as government contractors, who stand to lose millions if they fail to secure sensitive information.
Microsoft’s latest update integrates a host of new security features including encrypted email and certificate management (S/MIME), the ability to access enterprise-class Wi-Fi networks, and built-in virtual private networking (VPN). Mobile device management (MDM) support will allow IT departments to remotely install security policies, limit hardware and software features (such as the ability to access certain websites or download certain applications), and “remote wipe” a device in the event of loss or theft. While Window Phone’s recent growth may be in emerging markets, these enterprise features indicate a concerted effort by Microsoft to market to security-conscious institutional customers.
Many of these features are already available on Android and iOS, but neither solutions are ideal. Android’s open-source nature will always leave it most vulnerable to attack, and Apple’s focus is clearly on the consumer market and maintaining its iTunes digital ecosystem. Blackberry’s absence left a vacuum in the mobile enterprise space and Windows Phone is especially well-placed to fill it.
Every Windows Phone ships with mobile versions of its Word, Excel, and PowerPoint applications, with no additional software or subscriptions needed. This may not excite the typical consumer user, but seamless compatibility will be key for businesses. Despite valiant efforts by others, Microsoft Office remains the undisputed global standard and that is not changing any time soon. These applications will always be more tightly integrated with Windows Phone than its competitors, for the same reasons that Office for Windows is always years ahead of Office for Mac (both literally and figuratively). The same goes for SharePoint, OneNote, Skype, and Lync, Microsoft’s enterprise instant messaging client.
Regardless of the success of Microsoft’s Surface line, tablet computing is here to stay. Microsoft has been moving closer to realization of “universal” applications for Windows Phone, Windows RT, and Windows 8, which will effectively run across the spectrum of mobile devices, tablets, and personal computers. This will mean applications that are consistent, compatible and, most importantly, will only need to be developed and purchased once. Once this goal is reached, the application gap between Windows Phone and its competitors will be narrowed or even eliminated.
As Windows Phone 8.1 becomes available over the coming months, expect it to get a serious look by corporations, government agencies and the military (both U.S. and foreign). It will also be a welcome alternative to companies with bring-your-own device (BYOD) policies, providing IT managers with greater ability to exert control over corporate data flowing through personal devices. While it may not let you chat via Facetime or download the latest games, Windows Phone’s strength lays with the enterprise and its best days lay ahead.
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