Cool Business Features Coming to Windows Phone 7
When Microsoft launched the Windows Phone 7 OS last November, its potential was clear, but it had too many missing features we’ve come to expect in smartphones. The OS had a long way to go to catch up with Android and iOS. Yet Microsoft just announced an enormous update called Mango, coming this fall, which will fill in many of the gaps and make Windows Phone 7 a legitimate competitor. Let’s take a look at how Mango will improve Windows Phone 7 for business users. (photo credit: visualdensity)
Enhanced Office Hub
With Mango, Windows Phone 7 users will finally be able to save and share Office documents through Office 365 and Windows Live SkyDrive, ensuring you have access to the latest versions of documents when and where you need them. For those who don’t know, SkyDrive may best be described as Microsoft’s version of Dropbox, but SkyDrive is more deeply integrated into their office solutions. This had to be one of the most requested features, and it’s great to get this kind of integration.
Finally, a unified inbox! Mango brings the capability to integrate all of your e-mail accounts into a single inbox. Or, if you’d prefer, you can have one inbox dedicated to business accounts, and one inbox for personal accounts. These can be pinned to the home screen for easy access. It will also feature a conversation view similar to the way Gmail threads messages, which makes it much more intuitive and easier to navigate. Perhaps most importantly, search will now scour your Exchange server, too. This will enable you to find older e-mails that are no longer stored on your phone.
Live Tiles and Notifications for Third-Party Apps
Those lovely Live Tiles aren’t just for native apps anymore. Mango brings the capability to make Live Tiles do just what you want (as long as the app’s developer builds in that functionality). For example, you can set a British Airways Live Tile to provide real-time notifications of any flight changes, or you can set a home screen shortcut to take you directly to a specific part of the app, such as your boarding pass. The importance of third-party notifications can’t be understated.
The keyboard in Mango will be faster and more accurate. It will offer not only text correction, but more robust text prediction somewhat similar to the popular Android keyboard SwiftKey. Additionally, Microsoft has said that Mango will support more languages.
Internet Explorer 9, Acceleration
There are two major updates here: First, the IE9 browser will support HTML5. With more and more Websites switching to HTML5 you just can’t see the whole Web without it. The other major upgrade is hardware acceleration. That means that the software will now be able to utilize the hardware to its fullest potential, which dramatically increases the speed at which Web pages are displayed, particularly those that are Java heavy.
Finding and installing the apps you need is going to get a lot easier. Alongside Mango, Microsoft is launching Windows Phone Marketplace on the Web. Android adopted this approach recently, and it’s been a hit. You'll be able to search for apps and get more accurate results. When you find an app you want, you can click it, and it will download over the air onto your phone. No wires required.
With Mango comes real multitasking--not just for native apps, but for third-party apps, too. You can switch between apps by long-pressing the back button. When you move away from one, the app freezes in a way that saves your place, but doesn’t eat up much in the way of battery or system resources. Come back to the app and it instantly resumes just where you left off.
Why limit yourself to Bing when you have a bunch of specialized apps on your phone? With App Connect you'll have the option to display your search results in any applicable application. For example, if you search for flights, you may prefer to see the results displayed in your Kayak app to help you find the best deal. It’s a more thoroughly integrated approach to search, and it would be nice to see other operating systems adopt it.
Groups are very handy, indeed. You name the group and decide who goes in it, such as everyone on your team at work. Then you can create a Live Tile for them and stick it right on your home screen. From there it will display live any status updates or photos people in your group post, or messages they send you. More useful, though, is that it now just takes a couple clicks to e-mail or message everyone in the group.
Finally the IT admins are getting a little love. Windows Phone 7 users will have access to complex alpha-numeric password support, which is a must if these devices are going to make it in the enterprise ecosystem. Mango also includes Information Rights Management support for protecting e-mails and Office documents. And it finally offers support for access to hidden corporate Wi-Fi networks. (photo credit: M. Thierry)
Even with all of these goodies, there are still some big holes to fill. A large one is the lack of support for several Virtual Private Network (VPN) protocols, namely PPTP, L2PT, and IPSEC. This means that if an enterprise has a tough security policy that utilizes one of these protocols, the Windows Phone 7 user will not have access to corporate data or Exchange. This could definitely slow enterprise integration.
Another major hole is the lack of Wi-Fi and USB tethering. If you travel for business tethering is an indispensible lifeline. All of the other major operating systems can do it now, and Windows Phone 7 needs to catch up here.