In the last few years, the smartphone market has shifted radically, thanks to the consumerization of IT. In my early days in the workforce, the idea of bringing our own hardware to work was unthinkable. That's mostly because we had better hardware at work than at home, but also because IT would never allow it.
Since then, things have shifted. Most people have newer, better PCs and phones at home than at work, and the BYOD trend has taken off. One reason BYOD was a success, as some friends have pointed out, is that it started on the C-level. When the CEO came to work with his new iPhone 3G and said he wanted to use that instead of his BlackBerry, well, who was going to argue with him?
This move, combined with Research in Motion making every wrong possible move it could make, has blown the smartphone market for business users wide open. RIM's death grip on the market has been shattered, giving Apple and Google an entre into the market.
Here's the problem: neither one has really good back-end support. There is no Android or iPhone equivalent of BlackBerry Enterprise Server or some of the other support systems, but then again, one analyst tells me BES is only in use among about 10 percent of enterprises these days, so its value is dwindling as well.
This positions Microsoft to capitalize on both the shortcomings of iPhone/Android and the demise of RIM (and let's not kid ourselves. That company is circling the drain). Windows Phone 7.5 was already a good phone but some of the features in Windows Phone 8 will make it that much better of an enterprise phone.
- Shared kernel: With Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is abandoning the Windows CE kernel and using the same kernel as in its desktop OS. This will make porting of apps much quicker.
- BitLocker: Microsoft doesn't call it that, but the WP8 phone will use device encryption and UEFI secure boot that's on the desktop and RT versions of the OS, making the phone much more secure.
- Enterprise management: WP8 offers device management for large enterprises. In addition to Exchange ActiveSync management, you get management that will be akin to Active Directory and Group Policy. More on this will be revealed in the future.
- Company Hub: Company Hub will be an app store of sorts for companies, allowing them to be their own app distribution service as well as for administrators to highlight specific features, depending on what's important to their organization.
- Desktop IE10: The Windows 8 desktop version of Internet Explorer 10 will be on Windows Phone 8, complete with its anti-phishing and other tools for added security.
- Skype/VoIP integration: Microsoft said it will expose both speech and voice-over-IP (VOIP) APIs for any developer and any app. Skype users will see incoming Skype calls even if the app isn't loaded.
All in all, this is an impressive collection of features worth serious consideration by anyone whose BlackBerry contract is coming up. But as I said, the BYOD movement was driven by the top down. Will C-levels suddenly shift to Windows Phone 8? If they do, Microsoft will have pulled off a major hat trick.