How well does your smartphone support your Exchange server?

Summary:Now that the iPhone 3G S is out and available half of the premium smartphones coming to us this Summer are ready for people to purchase and try out. The T-Mobile myTouch 3G is coming next month, the HTC Touch Pro2 devices should be coming in July too, and the BlackBerry Storm 2 will be coming at some unknown date. We do have the Palm Pre, iPhone 3G S, and Nokia N97 and I personally purchased all three of these devices with one being returned so far. One of my evaluation criteria for a smartphone is its ability to work with my Exchange account. Windows Mobile sets the bar for Exchange support since Exchange is a Microsoft client and this is one area where Windows Mobile does things right. A bit surprisingly, the new iPhone 3.0 OS found on the iPhone 3G S offers the second best Exchange experience with only one thing left to add for me to be truly happy and no longer reliant on a Windows Mobile phone.

Now that the iPhone 3G S is out and available half of the premium smartphones coming to us this Summer are ready for people to purchase and try out. The T-Mobile myTouch 3G is coming next month, the HTC Touch Pro2 devices should be coming in July too, and the BlackBerry Storm 2 will be coming at some unknown date. We do have the Palm Pre, iPhone 3G S, and Nokia N97 and I personally purchased all three of these devices with one being returned so far. One of my evaluation criteria for a smartphone is its ability to work with my Exchange account. Windows Mobile sets the bar for Exchange support since Exchange is a Microsoft client and this is one area where Windows Mobile does things right. A bit surprisingly, the new iPhone 3.0 OS found on the iPhone 3G S offers the second best Exchange experience with only one thing left to add for me to be truly happy and no longer reliant on a Windows Mobile phone.

Most every phone with an Exchange client can give you email, calendar, and contacts, and task syncing, along with push email support. I need my smartphone to go beyond the basics in a few areas and I evaluate the mobile clients based on the following functionality:

  • Global Address Lookup (GAL) support
  • Search the server for email
  • Create private appointments
  • Create meetings where server contacts can be added
  • Respond and reply to meeting requests

Let me explain why a few of these are important to me. I do not sync up all of my contacts in my personal contacts list and find using GAL to be necessary to contact my coworkers from time-to-time. I also sync my email back a week on my devices, but need to often find email that is much older than what is synced to my device. We share our calendars at work so that appointments can be made and people know who is in or out, which is vital to the team approach we take to our various projects. Thus, I need to create private appointments so that everyone doesn't see my podcast recording, family birthday plans, etc. on the company calendar. I also meet with my project teams and like to setup meetings when out of the office. Since we don't have Outlook access outside the office, except through VPN or OWA, I like when my phone can be used to schedule these appointments.

So how do all the current mobile operating systems stack up for supporting these functions:

  • Windows Mobile supports all of these functions and more.
  • The iPhone 3.0 OS update added some great support for the enterprise user and now supports all of these functions, except for private appointment creation. I looked everywhere and did not see this capability on my iPhone 3G S, but as soon as it is added then I won't need to have a Windows Mobile phone to get all the Exchange functionality I need. The iPhone also presents this functionality in a nicer, more user friendly fashion. The iPhone also does not support Task synchronization.
  • Mail For Exchange on the Nokia N97 supports GAL, private meeting creation, and respond/reply to meeting requests. You cannot search the server (DataViz RoadSync does support this though) or create meetings with attendees. MFE also supports Task syncing, within the Calendar application.
  • With the excellent Touchdown application on my T-Mobile G1 I can actually perform a few of these advanced functions, with private appointments and server search missing. The latest version of Touchdown supports Task synchronization too.
  • The Palm Pre, like the iPhone, has native support for Exchange. However, Exchange support is slightly more limited on the Pre with no support for private appointments and no meeting creation where you can add attendees. Interestingly though, the Palm Pre is the only device I have ever seen with multiple Exchange account support. I didn't have more than one Exchange account to test this out though so I am not sure how well it works or integrates, but imagine with the Palm Pre color-coded calendars it works just fine.

So, the bottom line is that the no device other than Windows Mobile currently supports all of these functions. The iPhone 3G S just needs to add private appointment support and I will be good to go. The N97/S60 platform (with RoadSync) just needs to add the ability to invite attendees. The T-Mobile G1 (with Touchdown) needs to add private appointments (being worked on) and server search for email. I understand that native Exchange support may be in future Android devices so will keep my eye on that platform for this update. The Palm Pre needs to add the ability to invite attendees and create private appointments.

Support for Microsoft Exchange servers has come a long ways in mobile operating systems and there are just one or two functions (from my particular list) missing from all of them, except for Windows Mobile. I think these issues can be fairly easily addressed by all of these mobile platforms and hope to soon see Exchange functionality not being a deciding factor between choosing a smartphone.

What other functions/capabilities do you need to see from your smartphone when it comes to Exchange server support?

Topics: Operating Systems, Collaboration, Hardware, iPhone, Mobile OS, Mobility, Servers, Smartphones, Software, Wi-Fi, Windows

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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