This week, Microsoft has finally lifted the veil off its next mobile operating system release, which will arrive on devices in the form of Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1, meant to finally push the platform well into the enterprise level.Over the past few years, the Redmond-based company has included a great deal of enterprise-tailored capabilities in Windows Phone, yet the newly announced OS flavor comes with even more of them, making it finally a great fit for businesses of all sizes.
Set to become available for download as a Developer Preview release sometime in the next several days, Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 arrives on devices with a nice set of features that will make it a great option for any IT administrator.
One of these is Apps Corner, which enables users to set applications to be displayed in a sandboxed mode, thus allowing system administrators to restrict access to specific software on the device. Phones can be set to boot straight into an app, something that businesses might find highly appealing.
Additionally, the upcoming OS version arrives with some privacy and security improvements, among which support for virtual private networks (VPNs), thus allowing employees to send and receive data more privately than before.
To the above, features that were included in Windows Phone 8.1 can also be added, such as support for customizable MDM enrollment, LOB application & certificate management, S/MIME secure email, and support for a lot more MDM policies.
IT administrators can remotely manage company apps on smartphones, while employees have at their disposal various software tools designed to increase their efficiency, including Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote), Outlook, Lync, Skype, OneDrive, HERE Maps, and more.
Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 comes with other enhancements as well, such as the possibility to project the phone screen onto a PC, TV set or projector, and the fact that a Microsoft Account will make Windows Phone and Windows work better together.
On top of all these, there is Cortana, the virtual personal assistant that Microsoft made official back in April, which can help enterprise users do more faster. Although available only in the US at the moment, it is coming to more markets soon.
I should also mention here the fact that, with Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1, developers have a single runtime to use when building applications for Microsoft’s platform, targeting both phones and desktop computers with the same software.
This long-touted feature is what the Redmond-based software giant is betting on when it comes to ensuring the success of its mobile operating system, which has been long lagging behind rivals such as Android and iOS.
In fact, the latest market analysis reports suggest that Windows Phone lost ground in the second quarter of the year, now accounting for only 2.7 percent of all smartphones around the world.
Despite the fact that Windows Phone 8.1 was announced in Q2, only two smartphones running under it arrived on shelves in the timeframe, namely Lumia 630 / 635 and Lumia 930, and sales were clearly hurt.
Save for Lumia Icon, a Verizon Exclusive (running Windows Phone 8), these were the only two new Windows Phone smartphones to have been launched in 2014 by the end of the second quarter. Although Microsoft’s partners announced their own handsets running under the OS, they did not release them by the end of June.
However, despite a very slow second quarter, the platform is still poised for growth, and we might see it accelerating in the next few quarters, greatly helped by the latest updates and by the tighter relationship it has with the desktop OS.
In fact, Microsoft is betting big on the fact that Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 are so interconnected, and the video ads published for Lumia 930 are clearly pointing in this direction, as they come with the tagline “One experience, Windows on your phone.”
This shared experience on desktops, laptops, tablets and phones is what will allow Microsoft to push Windows Phone 8.1 deeper into the enterprise market, given that employees will enjoy a familiar environment on all of their devices, and system managers will find it much easier to administrate them.
Windows has been long the top OS in the enterprise level, which should help Microsoft in its pursuit, despite the fact that the competition is becoming more intense.
And with Windows currently being the most used operating system on desktops, with around 92 percent market share, the fact that the mobile platform has been brought closer to its desktop counterpart will certainly help in the consumer market too.
In all fairness, Windows 8.1 accounts for only around 6.5 percent of desktop PCs, with over 75 percent of them running under Windows 7 and Windows XP at the moment, but that is still a good base to start building on, that’s for sure.
In my opinion, Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 will actually help each other gain more market share in the enterprise segment, especially with Microsoft touting them as capable of offering a single experience to all users.
The mobile OS clearly needs a push forward in all market segments, while the desktop platform needs a bit of help to take down Windows XP, which is over a decade old, thus almost obsolete in many respects, and Windows 7, currently the most used Windows iteration.
The aforementioned new business features included in Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 will certainly appeal a lot to businesses of all sizes, especially if they are paired with affordable yet powerful devices, something that the Redmond-based company is working on as well.
Microsoft already has some of these up for sale around the world, including Lumia 630, Lumia 1320, Lumia 720, and others, and should launch some more of them before the end of this year, including the recently rumored Nokia Superman and Tesla.
Moreover, its new hardware partners are preparing a variety of mobile phones that will arrive on shelves with low price tags attached to them, further expanding the presence of Windows Phone on key markets, such as India, China, and others.
Most probably, we’ll also start seeing more video commercials for Windows Phone 8.1 devices in the not-too-distant future, and many of them will be targeted at businesses too, touting the aforementioned newly introduced platform capabilities.
Microsoft has already released videos ads that present the various features that make Lumia devices true business phones, but only after Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 arrives it will be able to fully market these handsets as fit for enterprise customers.
I believe that, if Windows Phone 8.1 indeed manages to grow in the enterprise segment, its overall popularity will increase too, and it will start gaining more ground on both emerging and developed markets around the world.