Nokia Lumia Windows Phone vs. iOS, Android: The business apps view
AT&T and Nokia are about to launch the Lumia 900, arguably the first Windows Phone "hero" device to hit the U.S. market. Business users should pay close attention, given Blackberry's steepening decline and a leveling off of business feature enhancements on iOS and Android.
Are you an Android or iPhone business user considering the Nokia Lumia 900, the HTC Titan II or other Windows Phone handset as your next phone? Prep yourself for a few missing apps and far fewer friends with the same phone, but a superior core platform experience. Business use cases were a bit of an afterthought on the Android and iOS operating systems.
Meanwhile, despite Microsoft's explicit targeting of the consumer with Windows Phone, Redmond made sure from the get-go that its handsets could handle sophisticated email, calendar, contact and document management. That's hardly a surprise given Microsoft is the maker of Exchange, Office, SharePoint and the Office 365 cloud service that bundles them all.
But does it really make a difference as you use the phone?
Better Exchange support
Exchange support on Windows Phone has very high fidelity to the Outlook client on a PC, and has since the platform launched in late 2010. That's a sharp contrast with iOS and Android, neither of which had even basic connectivity with Exchange until somewhere in their second versions. In fact, the Kindle Fire, an Android device, offers no native Exchange support at all, even if free apps exist to address this.
Little things mean a lot. On an Exchange server, especially in large companies, being able to search the GAL (Global Address List) when selecting recipients in a new email message is a very important feature. Android does this automatically, Windows Phone provides it as an option, and iOS doesn't do it all.
Update: Saying iOS didn’t have GAL access was a serious error on my part. In fact, iOS integrates GAL-based contacts into the master contacts list. If you want to search the GAL all by itself, it takes a couple of taps, but the integration of GAL contacts by default is a good call on Apple’s part. Windows Phone has no distinct advantage on this point. I thank the commenters who pointed this out.
When declining an appointment on Android, you can't include a text response as to why. On iOS you can embed a comment before declining, but that's not a terribly obvious technique. On Windows Phone, after deciding whether to accept, decline or reply as tentative, you are given the option to specify a augmenting text response, which is much more polite.
If you're running late for a meeting, Windows Phone provides an explicit option to email the meeting organizer and other attendees to let them know. That email has boilerplate text in it, allowing you to send it in just a few taps, with no text entry necessary. iOS and Android have no similar option.
There are more such niceties.
When a meeting invitation arrives on a Windows Phone, a "Show scheduling conflict" link will appear if the proposed meeting time conflicts with another appointment, allowing the user to tap and reconcile. Although Android and iOS offer options for checking a calendar manually, neither offers an automatic alert of a conflict.
Little differences like this sound picayune at first, but once you take advantage of them every day, their value becomes much more apparent.
Native Office clients
The Windows Phone for business story isn't just about email and calendar features -- it extends to word processing, spreadsheets and presentations as well.
Word and Excel documents can be created and edited on a Windows Phone and files in both of those formats, as well as PowerPoint presentations, can be viewed as well. In addition to the device itself, Windows Phone opens and saves Office documents from SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage platform that gives you 25GB of free storage. You can also connect to SharePoint sites, view documents there (not to mention other SharePoint items like announcements, links and lists), then edit and save them. The native desktop Office applications can also read and write from SkyDrive and SharePoint, allowing you easily to keep your phone and PC documents in sync.
Since Office is part of the Windows Phone platform, you won't need to locate and install third party applications, like Quickoffice, Documents To Go or iWork, and you certainly won't need to pay separately for them. Nor will you have to deal with file format conversions or loss of fidelity in the documents themselves. This comes in especially handy when someone sends a PowerPoint presentation before a meeting; you can preview it in full-screen slideshow mode, with animations intact. The large screens on the Lumia 900 and the Titan II should work especially well for this.
Microsoft's OneNote, which I have always found vastly superior to Evernote in all aspects but platform ubiquity, integrates nicely as well. Of course, even if you have a Windows Phone, you may still want to get to your notes from devices on other platforms. And now that OneNote apps are available for both iPhone and iPad, as well as Web browsers (using HTML) and, of course, for Windows, you'll be in decent shape (hopefully an Android app is coming some day). If you would still prefer to use Evernote, it's available for Windows Phone too.
Update: There is a OneNote app for Android, albeit only for handsets running version 2.3 or higher of Google’s phone OS.
What about the apps?
While it's nice that Evernote is on Windows Phone, business users need several apps, so what else is out there for Microsoft's smartphone platform? Some important apps are available: Yammer's there for corporate IM. Lync can do IM too, as well as voice. There's also a beta version of Skype that does IM, voice and video calling. Amazon has a very nice Kindle app on Windows Phone for your business reading, and Pulse is there for keeping up with RSS feeds.
But all is not pretty for business app users in Windows Phone land. Want to get to your corporate bank account, and deposit a check by snapping a photo of it? If you're a Chase customer on iOS or Android, you're all set; if you're on Windows Phone, you're up a creek.
Likewise, if you've got a trip coming up on United Airlines, that company's excellent mobile app also remains exclusive to the Apple and Google mobility platforms. Yes, there are always mobile Web sites, but they're just not the same.
To be fair, Bank of America, American Airlines, Delta, British Airways, SWISS, Iberia and FlightAware do have Windows Phone apps. And with over 70,000 apps in the Windows Phone marketplace, you'll find lots more. It's not that app coverage is completely missing, it's just that it's spotty.
Are you at the office working late? If you're in one of the cities where Seamless operates, you can use that company's iPhone, iPad and Android apps to order in a meal. There's no Windows Phone app from Seamless though, nor will the company's mobile Web site process an order properly from the Windows Phone version of Internet Explorer.
Even apps that are available in Windows Phone, like TripIt's app for travel itinerary management, are not as full-featured on Microsoft's smartphone platform as they are elsewhere. Sometimes third-party apps (like MyTrips, in the case of TripIt) pick up the slack.
Faster access with Live Tiles
Live Tiles is another Windows Phone platform feature that's important to business users. Live Tiles are shortcuts on your home screen with valuable information that take you directly to a relevant part of the corresponding app. They're way better than iOS's icons and lighter-weight/more battery-efficient than Android's widgets.
For example, MyTrips' Live Tile tells you what and when your next flight is, and what gate it's leaving from. OpenTable lets you have a Live Tile detailing and linking to a particular restaurant reservation, which comes in very handy when meeting clients for lunch. OneNote lets you pin a tile to the home screen linking to a specific note, which works great for to-do lists and the like.
Tiles can point to people too. A contact's tile will alert you to new text messages, emails, missed calls or voice mails from that person -- providing a good way to be responsive to a boss, a spouse or a special friend. Likewise, tiles for groups of contacts work really well for managing communications on team projects. You can even have a Live Tile for yourself that will automatically notify you of tweets or Facebook posts involving you.
If you're using social media for your business, having this information available at glance can be invaluable.
But are features enough?
If smartphone platform market preferences were based on the merits of the core operating system experience, Windows Phone would be winning amongst business users. Everyone fleeing the Blackberry platform would be finding a home on Windows Phone, especially because its touch keyboard is a little better than the iPhone's and leagues ahead of any Android keyboard, be it standard or custom.
But the smartphone wars are also based on ecosystem strength, fashion, costs and popularity amongst influencers. The Lumia 900 should help greatly with the fashion and cost criteria and will likely help to a degree with ecosystem strength.
Popularity amongst influencers has a ways to go yet. If it changes to the upside, that will help Windows Phone; Android will need to watch its back, and Apple will at least have to pay attention. But right now, Windows Phone has small market share and Nokia has a less than stellar track record here in the US. That's a huge hill to climb, even if the Lumia is a great phone for business.