Windows Phone 7 needs consumers to succeed in business

The success of Windows Phone 7 as a business smartphone depends on Microsoft capturing the consumer market's attention

The first thing that comes to mind when considering a desktop OS for business is Windows. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of productivity software is Microsoft Office. The first thing that pops to mind for mobile business communications, though, is BlackBerry. Windows Phone 7, however, may have what it takes to both compete with the iPhones and Androids of the world, while also assuming its rightful place atop the business smartphone world.

Windows Phone 7 has a Zune-like interface, and Xbox Live integration to provide entertainment muscle and make the smartphone more appealing from a consumer perspective. But, Windows Phone 7 also has the most comprehensive native integration with the Microsoft tools and applications that business users rely on, and the innovative tile and hub interface offers a compelling approach to being more productive with the smartphone.

Most organizations already have the backend Microsoft infrastructure in place to monitor, maintain, and protect Windows Phone 7 smartphones. Unlike RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server, Microsoft Active Directory is already integral to a Windows server infrastructure, and IT admins are already familiar with working with Active Directory and Group Policy to manage the environment.

That said, times have changed when it comes to mobile business communications. IT admins don't have the influence they once had in steering smartphone decisions. Three years ago, the choice was essentially between Microsoft's Windows Mobile, and RIM's BlackBerry. Android didn't yet exist, and the iPhone was just being launched--primarily targeted as a consumer gadget more than a business tool.

However, the stealth attack mounted by the iPhone has democratized choice when it comes to business smartphones. The popularity of the iPhone led to demand from users to connect the consumer smartphone with business networks and resources. The iPhone caught Microsoft and RIM off guard, and paved the way for the ascent of Android as a business smartphone platform as well.

The model of a homogenous smartphone infrastructure dictated by the IT department is long gone for most organizations. It is more common now for users to choose the smartphone and wireless provider that suits them, and to place the burden on the IT admin to try and juggle the various smartphone platforms to grant access to e-mail and network resources while enforcing policies and protecting data. Rather than providing smartphones, the last company I worked for simply gave employees a monthly allowance and left it to individuals to manage their smartphone decisions.

Given the smartphone culture in business today, Microsoft's Jekyll and Hyde approach makes more sense. It is a serious mobile communications device, while also providing an awesome platform for entertainment and gaming. To capture business smartphone market share, Microsoft must first capture consumer interest.

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