In my previous post about the Windows Phone 8-powered HTC 8X, I concluded that the phone is a well-made device that, despite a massive software catalog, ships with a compelling selection of standard functionality. While other phones might require social network applications and additional software, Windows 8 presents a reasonably functional device right out of the box. For enterprises, however, deep Facebook integration likely isn't much of a selling point. So, can other native functionality make Windows 8 a compelling choice for a company phone?
The app question ... Office and SharePoint to the rescue?
For better or worse, ecosystem application counts have become a hallmark of smartphone reviews. Rather than reciting numbers, let's acknowledge the simple fact that yes, there are fewer applications for Windows Phone 8, with some seemingly glaring omissions. For my personal workflow, a native Dropbox application is a major omission, and the array of niche applications you expect on iOS and Android simply aren't there. That being said, many of the major players are present, from Facebook to Foursquare (even Angry Birds, which for reasons I simply cannot fathom has become a benchmark application for every mobile platform), and personal favorites like MyFitnessPal and Pandora make an appearance.
While several stalwarts are missing, Microsoft offers a major feature that few platforms can match: native Office and SharePoint integration. I'm an Office 365 user, and the 8X was able to connect to our hosted SharePoint service as part of email setup. Once connected, just like desktop Windows, our company SharePoint account appeared as yet another location where files could be stored or retrieved. Integration extended to group calendars and message boards; for a heavy SharePoint user, Windows Phone made SharePoint mobile.
A mobile version of Office also makes an appearance in Windows Phone, although it's rather rudimentary. I had no problems viewing various documents I sent to the phone and could make basic edits, but some formatting was lost, and Word's review features are completely absent, aside from the ability to add comments to a document. While native Office seems like a major feature, I was underwhelmed by the functionality on offer, although the native ability to make basic edits to documents on the move is certainly better than nothing.
The combination of SharePoint integration and basic document viewing and editing provides what I see as Windows Phone's biggest enterprise advantage. Widespread smartphone adoption presents several challenges for enterprise applications, but rudimentary SharePoint-based enterprise applications work out-of-the-box on Windows Phone. While more advanced forms and customized workspaces may be missing, something as simple as a shared Excel spreadsheet could form the basis of a rudimentary mobile application that requires zero development.
A small business with an Office 365 account could quickly distribute service manuals to a mobile support staff, or a small consulting firm could provide invoice templates that could be completed by the client — all without writing a line of code, acquiring development tools, or worrying about the mobile ecosystem they're targeting. With a little creativity, this is powerful stuff.
Would I go Windows?
I enjoyed my time with Windows Phone more than I thought. The interface is surprisingly intuitive once you learn the basic paradigm of horizontal scrolling, and I found Live Tiles made a great deal of sense on a smartphone-sized device. Like many users who have spent a few years with iOS or Android, however, I have a long list of purchased applications and deep investment in tools like Dropbox that outweigh the benefits Windows Phone would provide.
If I were a SharePoint-heavy organization, I would still give Window Phone a long, hard look. If the HTC 8X is any indication, the hardware is near-par with market leaders, the OS is pleasant and largely usable out-of-the-box, and SharePoint integration presents a killer enterprise feature. As icing on the cake, most of the Windows Phone devices seem to start at the $100 range, $200-300 lower than their flagship iOS and Android competitors. For an organization looking to equip a field sales or service group with mobile capability that's already invested in SharePoint, this looks like a very potent combination.
For general users, people who have yet to deeply invest in iOS or Android should also consider Windows Phone. The interface and out-of-the-box functionality make for a device that provides great email, calling, and social networking without having to install a long list of applications.
What do you think is Window Phone's biggest enterprise advantage? Has your organization considered deploying Windows Phone 8 devices?
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.