September 26, 2012

Will Windows Phone 8 Launch Lync Mobility?

Mobility is one area where UC continues to underwhelm. Where every UC vendor offers a mobile client, their adoption by end users has been miniscule. This situation is obviously embarrassing to the vendors who continue to tout the importance of mobility (who could argue with that?), while their offerings in the area languish. Could the latest release of Windows Phone 8 finally show us a mobile UC capacity that users will actually buy?

Let's start with why the current crop of mobile UC solutions has failed to entice users. Voice is clearly one of the key communications modes in UC (some might say the "core" communication mode), and mobile UC clients make a lousy phone call. I'm not talking about "voice quality", but rather the all-important user experience.

To make a business call, first the user must open the mobile client. Users will typically have access to the corporate directory, and in about half the cases that will also provide the colleague's presence status. Clicking the contact launches this bizarre process where the PBX places a call to the user's mobile device. In most cases the user has to manually answer the call, and then the PBX places a call to the party they are trying to reach.

Now, mobility is supposed to be about making things simple. This isn't simple. The device manufacturers spend a lot of time designing an appealing user interface that users cherish. Now we get that well designed experience for personal calls and this Rube Goldberg process for making business calls. The problem is that the APIs exposed for mobile app developers do not allow access to the phone's native dialer, the one thing you need to make a phone call. So with the obvious route to telephony blocked, the UC vendors have come up with this ingenious (though not necessarily "attractive") alternative.

The only UC vendor who might have a way out of this conundrum is Microsoft, because it actually controls one of the mobile operating systems, Windows Phone. The first phones using the latest version of that, Windows Phone 8, were introduced by Nokia in early September. Samsung and others are apparently planning offerings as well.

Microsoft also has a strategic partnership with Nokia based on CEO Stephen Elop's decision to adopt Windows Phone in place of its own Symbian operating system some 18 months ago. Clearly Windows Phone has not been blowing the doors off in the consumer market. Gartner pegs the worldwide Windows Phone market share at around 2% to Android's 56% share and Apple's 23%. IDC is predicting that Windows Phone market share will grow to 19.2% by 2016. Barring a truly cataclysmic event in the mobile device market, there's no way I could see that happening.

So Microsoft is going to start getting desperate. Given its' financial performance since making the Windows Phone decision, Nokia is "desperate" already. However as we all know, necessity can be the mother of invention.

If you take X-Box out of the mix, Microsoft has always been more of an enterprise than a consumer company. If they saw fit, Microsoft/Nokia could develop dual persona (i.e. business-personal) handsets with software allowing users to make Lync calls in as simple and straightforward a fashion as personal calls. The basic user interface for Windows Phone isn't bad. The interface used to be called "Metro," but Microsoft has since abandoned that name and has yet to come up with a new one. Control of the Windows Phone operating system is key, and this capability is not available to Cisco, Avaya, IBM, or anyone else in the UC market.

There is another factor that can buttress this option. The initial versions of Windows Phone, up to and including version 7.5 or "Mango", were consumer-focused to the point that they did not bother to include on-device encryption or hooks to support mobile device management (MDM) systems. That changed with Windows Phone 8 that supports encryption and a secure boot feature that will make it more difficult to sneak malware onto the device. They have also included some level of support for MDM systems, but the extent of that is still unclear.

Given the mobile industry's obsession with the consumer market over enterprise needs, I'm not predicting this is a "sure thing." But it would certainly be an interesting strategy for Microsoft/Nokia, particularly with the pending demise of BlackBerry.
If nothing else, Windows Phone 8 is adding some key security features to make it enterprise-ready. When it comes to a Lync-capable handset, desperation can be a great motivator!

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Do you think Microsoft is in a position similar to Google and Motorola Mobility and would run the risk of alienating other handset manufacturers if they started offering special designs for Lync developed jointly by Nokia and themselves?

Excellent point. They absolutely do, so they would have to support that same type of joint development with any other manufacturer who expressed an interest. From Microsoft's standpoint that would be even better because it would mean more good handset choices for mobile Lync. The biggest obstacle might be Microsoft's own reluctance to "stray outside the lines" given the court challenges they faced some years back over charges that they were using product integration to dominate the market.

I doubt Microsoft and Nokia will be suucesfull at targeting enterprise specificaly. In my opinion there is no real difference between an enterprise or personal consumer. They both consume. This is especialy true for mobile and internet consumption which is blurring, regarding its uses for enterprise or personal consumption (facebook updates at work for example). BB initialy focused on enterprise and soon found a lucrative market in targeting the youth. So I would expect that whatever Microsoft do for the office will be adopted at home also. Having said that, when the scale of products grows so large that every other person already has such a device, you are catering for consumers what ever their purpose and use is for the device. Nokia used to have an E-Series and a N-Series smartphones, yet towards the end they had identical specifications and features. So why even have both. Apple has succesfully shown that a single model can cover all the uses and in many ways Samsung is following suite.

Microsoft being in Enterprise market should have made tight relationship with RIM instead of Nokia - which was and remains mostly budget consumer focused. There was and still to this day - is - a synergy between RIM's Blackberry handset devices and the Microsoft SMB/SME and enterprise servers.

"Barring a truly cataclysmic event in the mobile device market..." Couldn't agree more. At best Microsoft can get to around 8%-10% of market share.

If Microsoft wants to be successful in providing UC solution for mobility - it will be prudent in making sure that Skype Client and Lync clients are available for all popular mobile platforms iOS, Android, and Windows 8 and even possible Mozilla mobile OS - with MDM support.

I agree that some vendors have missed the boat about "user experience" when it comes to mobile UC - however - quite a few mobile UC clients can leverage the mobile phone's built-in dialer - allowing users to dial phone numbers naturally - from the mobile phone's own phone book, or from the phone's call log and history. This does NOT require access to the OS - and this is possible even today on Symbian OS, Android OS, iOS, and even Blackberry OS.

An interesting move/trend specially in the Nordic region is that Mobile Carriers that also provide SIP trunk lines - can provide a service called "MEX or MDA"- where there is no need for any mobile client and users can just dial each other and the magic of number translation or routing through the corporate phone system is done seamlessly - giving mobile users the best user experience.

It would be great if North American Carriers can learn something from the Nordic region and implement MEX ("M"obile "EX"tension) feature when offering SIP trunking.

Microsoft and RIM are partnered with Microsoft's Cloud Exchange 2010, Office 365

Microsoft Still has a ways to go on this issue. Even thought they have laid the initial ground work, There is no 3rd party SIP clients available on WP8 and you won't likely see one for 6 mos. to a year. If that wasn't bad enough news, Even if they were available today they would not work properly until Microsoft upgrades WP8 with Apollo Plus. If you are making all calls through a SIP client on WP8 through a WiFi connection, as soon as the phone goes into sleep mode it kills your WiFi connection. How would you receive an incoming phone call?

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