Monday, April 11, 2011

Of Smartphones and Sycophants

Naturally, like everyone else in the world, we are faced with the fact that people want to use their own gadgets to do work stuff. The chants are increasing and getting higher up the ladder, which has made for an interesting set of philosophical conversations around the importance of technology to the business - conversations we've never really had.

It started, predictably, with the iPhone 3. Immensely popular, that was the sound of the first shot so to speak. IT had plausible deniability though - lack of encryption support would undoubtedly result in company data making its way into unscrupulous Russian hackers who walked by with Bond-esque electronic plot devices. With the advent of the the 3GS, IT had to work a little bit harder to stem the tide - they would be difficult (i.e. expensive) to manage, and wouldn't have the same controls as our beloved BlackBerries.

But the screens were awesome on these things, and old eyes kept begging..."Please, please give me more than a postage stamp-sized display for my e-mail, since I can only read it at 72pt."

This whole time, RIM was working on their strategy - an iPhone imitator with all the warm fuzziness of BlackBerry Enterprise Server security & controls. "Awesome!" said the IT department, "That'll shut 'em up!"

We were wrong.

The device RIM delivered was called the "Torch", and it sucked. It sucked worse than anything has ever sucked before. How in the world did the brilliant minds at RIM - the people who created the damned smart phone to begin with - end up laying such a huge turd? Who knows how, but they did. It was bad by all accounts, universally decried as slow and clumsy and a really poor effort from a company that appeared to be well past it's prime.


We didn't even bother buying any - we knew people would hate them and the demands would arise anew, but louder, for iPhones. Oh, and Droids! Don't forget the Android devices! We love them, they tell us, because they have an app that turns my phone into a level and it's "open" - nyah nyah, take that Apple f4nb0yz!

How do you explain to people who are operating at that level, that there is A LOT more to supporting these things than simply pointing them at Exchange ActiveSync? They aren't going to get it, and don't really care.

If only there was another option...

Enter the Windows 7 Phone. or Windows Phone 7. I keep flip-flopping on which I like less. I suppose there were Windows Phones before this one, but I don't know anyone outside of Redmond who used them - and even they seemed to do so grudgingly.

It has the same form factor as the Androids. It has the same pretty display, the same touch-screen feature, the same glossy interface gestures as iPhone, but it's just a little different. It has a number of negatives, to be sure - there aren't nearly as many things you can do with it in terms of App availability (I can't believe I have to capitalize App now so that people know what I mean). But, it is made by Microsoft, which means it should work really well with all this other Microsoft stuff we have. Right? Wait, no...right???!?


It has Word, which is cool. It has Excel and PowerPoint even, and OneNote - nice. It has Outlook, which works well with Exchange as one might expect. But it trips over itself going the extra mile. Want to read PDF's? Create a Live ID and sign-in - hey, it's good enough for Apple! - even though the app is completely free. So much for appealing to enterprise customers at all.

If Microsoft ever figures out what an incredible platform they have in Windows 7 Phone / Windows Phone 7, it will be a dark day somewhere in Canada where incredibly nice people are failing miserably to make a compelling 21st century mobile device. There are a handful of options, probably not difficult to implement, that would make this consumer "also ran" into the dominant, if not singular option for corporate customers. Which, by the way, are the ones who have all the money.

Windows Phone 7 does a lot of things very well. The interface is well thought out and is a refreshing alternative to iOS. It looks good. You like using it. It's fast, at least on the Samsung and LG devices we've tried. It has a big screen that is easy to read. The camera is brilliant, and the video capture & playback are also fantastic. It does social well, even if you don't want it to.

Old fogies who use BlackBerry handhelds don't give a rip about Apps. That means this device would be perfect for them, because it doesn't have many. If only I could provision them complete with a handful of free apps like Acrobat reader and settings for our corporate wireless standard over the air, not require Live ID's, and not require Zune for updates. If only I could have them act as if they were on our private network - like BES phones - where our content filter and internal servers would be available to them. If only I could join them to my domain and have them controllable via GPO, or at least use NTLM authentication to our SharePoint 2007 sites (rather than making us re-deploy on 2010 with forms-based options enabled, which we can't do today). If only there were native integration with OCS 2007 or Lync for updating presence, having video chats, etc. If only there were a built-in RDP client.

It's an incredibly powerful platform, but not an especially good phone. If I'm lucky, Microsoft will figure this out and actually leverage it to embrace and reward enterprise customers...because the consumer ship has sailed, and it's flying an Apple spinnaker.

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