Microsoft Corporation is hosting this week its MIX conference in Las Vegas, the annual event geared towards web designers and developers. This year's event is highly anticipated for two reasons: 1) the company is showing off an early version of the Internet Explorer 9 browser (as part of the Browser Wars 2.0) and 2) it is discussing in greater detail how developers will be able to create applications for its new Windows Phone 7 Series platform which had been announced this past February at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 Series last month, it focused on what a user could do on the platform, but was very light on details on how developers could enable this functionality. That is starting to change now. Microsoft made official what many of us had already heard. Developers can use Silverlight, Visual Studio 2010, Expression Blend and the XNA framework. Microsoft also said that from a development standpoint, it's not looking back on its legacy. Your Windows Mobile 6.x applications - the applications you have been using to mobilize your workforce - will not be compatible with the new platform. Furthermore, regardless of whether you have built your own custom mobile applications or have purchased third party software, there's a pretty high probability that those applications will require considerable reworking to work on the new platform. That sounds like a lot of work. In fact, some people may be turned off by the prospect of having to throw out the proverbial kitchen sink to support "another" mobile platform. I'll argue that in the future, we will all look back at this moment in history and say that Microsoft's timing actually could not have been any better.
For all the buzz that smartphones and mobile applications have made in the last couple of years, we are today only at the end of the beginning of the mobile revolution. Notice how in the last sentence, there was no mention of the enterprise. While it was in the enterprise where we saw the early adoption of mobile communication devices such as the BlackBerry, that phenomenon has now clearly been eclipsed by the broad consumer adoption of devices such as the iPhone and various Android devices, among others. What's more, industry analysts continue to predict increasing growth in mobile device adoption as far as the eye can see. This is why Microsoft is correct in making a clean break from its legacy platform and set itself up for potential growth in this second wave of the mobile revolution.
Now that said, there are still many questions that remain unanswered regarding Windows Phone 7 Series that may impact how companies (and individuals) choose to support and/or adopt the platform. The new platform will no longer support "wide open" multitasking. Multitasking is a rather contentious topic on smartphones, as companies such as Apple have deemed it "bad for the consumer" due to its impact on battery life, while other companies such as Research in Motion tout the importance of background processing in the context of mobility management and security (all while maintaining strong battery life). Microsoft is arguing there may be a middle ground that leverages Push technology. Microsoft is not the first company to consider this strategy (Apple touted this some time ago), but the company remains vague on the details around this approach.
Microsoft could potentially find the best of both multitasking worlds if it chooses to leverage its ActiveSync technology as a core to this Push framework. Not only is ActiveSync used today on a broad array of mobile platforms for email and PIM synchronization, but it also supports an array of IT policies for IT managers to manage devices from their Exchange consoles. If Microsoft is able to encapsulate these IT policies and the ActiveSync capabilities into the more consumer-centric Push services it is now touting, it may very well be able to change the debate about multitasking: offer better battery life without sacrificing the corporate needs for mobility management.
This is the key balancing act for Microsoft going forward. The company has been saying that with Windows Phone 7 Series, it has refocused on its "real" customer...the consumer. That is certainly welcome news, however , Microsoft's real customer remains the enterprise and as such, the company will need to remain focused on their needs. Provide an enhanced experience for the individual customer, but not by sacrificing the needs of its corporate customers.