Microsoft's consumer play with its upcoming Windows Phone 7 mobile OS has not lost sight of the enterprise market, but has reset developer effort with the software giant, say industry voices.
The new OS represents a break from Microsoft's older platform, Windows Mobile. This means there will not be legacy support for existing Windows Mobile apps, and developers will have to port over or recode apps for the new platform.
Mozilla announced a few months ago that it has stopped development work on the mobile version of Firefox for Windows Mobile, while waiting for a development kit for the new OS.
Daryl Chiam, Canalys senior analyst, said in a phone interview with ZDNet Asia that the lack of backward compatibility poses one of the "biggest challenges" to Windows Phone 7's debut.
"Any developer momentum that has been achieved so far will be hampered. In the short term, it sets back progress that the Windows marketplace has made and could prove to be a large hurdle in retaining interest from independent software vendors (ISVs)," said Chiam.
Melissa Chau, client devices market analyst, IDC Asia-Pacific, acknowledged that Microsoft's direction with Windows Phone 7 risks alienating developers, and said the ability to woo the community will play a role in making Windows devices attractive to users.
Amassing a large developer base will help differentiate Microsoft devices from the competition and also help the company to retain its hardware partners, she said.
One developer thinks the transition to Windows Phone 7 may also give companies a reason to explore the competition. Since they have to consider recoding their enterprise apps, the option to look at other mobile platforms arises, said Pushpendra Mohta, CEO of Vayusphere, which makes enterprise software.
"The discontinuity of legacy support comes at a time when options for mobile platforms are exploding. Any CIO faced with the cost of switching platforms is going to use the opportunity to look at alternatives," Mohta said in an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia.
He said his customers, which are primarily in the financial services and public sector industries, have been moving over to BlackBerrys over the past few years at the expense of Windows Mobile. However, he noted that the myriad platforms coming up may push companies to look at more device-agnostic Web apps eventually.
Consumer play will win enterprise
All three analysts agreed, however, that Windows Phone 7 is a step in the right direction for Microsoft, whose standing in the mobile space has slipped in the past few years.
The company was unseated from its third place ranking by Apple in global smartphone sales last year.
Chau said winning the consumer has become an important strategy in the mobile race. "Even before the iPhone's market disruption, RIM realized a consumer-friendly approach was the way to growth," she said.
She added that Microsoft's current move is an attempt to play catch-up with the rise of consumer-oriented, touch-friendly devices. Handset makers such as HTC and Samsung, which had built their products on the older Windows Mobile platform, had to graft their own touch-based user interfaces atop the OS, in order to compete.
John Strand, CEO of analyst firm Strand Consult, said the Redmond company has for years underestimated the consumer market, and in so doing, forgotten the importance of employees' choices in selecting their mobile devices in the workplace.
"The boundaries are breaking down. The consumer and enterprise markets are converging--feature phones are becoming smartphones.
"Users look for cool phones at competitive prices and do not distinguish between consumer and enterprise, or feature phones and smartphones. They just want cool phones," said Strand.
He believes that Microsoft's focus on the consumer does not alienate its enterprise base. He pointed to the company's office software helping it to keep its grip on enterprises.
Last August, Microsoft announced a partnership with world #1 phone maker Nokia to make Microsoft Office available on the Finnish outfit's devices. Last week, the duo unveiled the first product of this alliance with a mobile unified communications app for Nokia phones.
Natasha Kwan, general manager, Asia, for Microsoft's mobile communications business, said in an e-mail to ZDNet Asia that enterprise users' biggest request was to have a phone which answers their expectations from a consumer point of view.
"End users' expectations have changed and grown to embrace mobile devices as more than just productivity tools. They expect smartphones to connect them to their friends and services...all in a simple, intuitive way," said Kwan.
The Windows phones will continue to focus on Microsoft's Exchange dominance in enterprises, and are expected to be used to access office documents and SharePoint sites, she said.
She added that talks with ISVs have been "very encouraging". Microsoft is also exploring "alternative" ways of allowing companies to deploy enterprise apps on Windows Phone 7, apart from the Windows Phone Marketplace.