iOS 5, Ice Cream Sandwich and Mango: Top Features for Microsoft Partners
Smartphone operating systems are in the midst of a major refresh cycle. This week, Google unveiled features of Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, in a joint demo with Samsung. Last week, Apple made iOS 5 available. And all through the month, Microsoft has been gradually rolling out the Mango update to Windows Phone 7 users.
Each OS has its consumer-focused highlights that get most of the attention. But what are the most business-friendly enhancements? We took a look at each platform with an eye for the details most relevant to Microsoft partners, who are looking to give their customers an edge in mobility.
Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango"Launch: Sept. 27
1. Custom Apps in Marketplace
A new feature of the Windows Phone platform is the ability for companies that develop custom apps for internal use to put them in the Windows Phone Marketplace. The app won't be visible in the public-facing catalog, but it allows for distribution to large numbers of employees. The feature should simplify distribution for Microsoft partners doing custom application development for large customers.
2. Enhanced Exchange Server Support
The ability to connect to Exchange e-mail isn't a differentiator among smartphones for Windows Phone 7. Android devices and iPhones can connect, as well. But with Mango, Microsoft is starting to leverage the opportunity to take integration further than the competition can or will. The 7.5 release can search the Exchange Server for fully indexed e-mail content and attachments and perform searches refined by date range and by folders. Also supported now on the Exchange side are alphanumeric Exchange passwords.
3. Linked Inboxes
Multiple e-mail account support, for calibrating work-life balance, gets much more sophisticated in Mango. A feature called Linked Inboxes allows users to pick and choose among their email accounts to have some feed into a single view.
4. Intelligent Multitasking
Mango adds the crucial feature of multitasking support, allowing users to switch between apps or take calls without losing progress on a document or game. The control for multitasking, called App Switcher, is intuitive and shows large screen images that make it easy to pick among open apps.
5. Twitter and LinkedIn
Windows Phone 7 supported feeds from Facebook and Windows Live. Mango adds tight integration with the more business-oriented social networks of Twitter and LinkedIn.
6. New Voice Commands
Microsoft Tellme technology powers a number of new voice command capabilities across the phone's functions. Partners may have the opportunity to plug into the infrastructure to create new interaction paradigms for their apps.
7. Improved Office Mobile Apps
One of the best features of Windows Phone 7 was the mobile Microsoft Office suite, featuring Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The Mango versions are basically the same with minor upgrades. For example, where all documents appeared as orange tiles in Windows Phone 7, they now have different colors based on the file type, making files easier to find. Microsoft also added a handful of templates for new Word and Excel files.
8. Office 365
New users who provide their Office 365 credentials will find their phones automatically configured and synched with email, calendar, contacts, tasks, SharePoint team sites and an Outlook Live Tile on the Start screen. There's also a downloadable Lync Mobile App to go with Office 365.
Next page: Apple iOS 5
Apple iOS 5 Launch: Oct. 4
1. PC Free
Let's face it: When it comes to phones, any time a user has to connect the phone to a computer is a failure. Apple appears to be shaking itself from its computer roots with iOS 5. It's now possible to activate, set up and maintain the devices without needing to use, or even own, a computer. The enhancement should make it less complicated to configure devices on behalf of clients and employees.
Related to the "PC Free" concept is iCloud, in that it further untethers the iPhone and other Apple devices from the computer, while allowing various devices and computers to sync and share information via an Internet-based hub. This is another area where Apple is taking advantage of its better-together story of smartphones and tablets to differentiate itself from other smartphone platforms.
The iOS 5 platform integrates tightly with Twitter, which has emerged as one of the more business-oriented of the social networking platforms. The new Apple OS allows users to Tweet directly from photos, the Safari browser, YouTube, the camera or maps.
4. Notification Center
One of the best features RIM's BlackBerry has going for it is the way the device puts all of a users' e-mail, instant messaging and other notifications in one place. As a device built primarily for e-mail, it's was a logical route for the BlackBerry. But it looks like Apple is taking a page from RIM's book in its Notification Center. Pulling together notifications from all of the phone's many functions in one interface may make the device more compelling for business users. At the same time, Apple is populating the previously static Lock screen with notifications, as well, making it easier to tell at a glance if you need to unlock the phone.
A new Reminders interface offers a slick way to create To-Do lists that integrate with the built-in Calendar and can also be location-based.
E-mail in an iPhone was already very solid. The iOS 5 release makes some enhancements, including the ability to format text with bold, italic, underlines and indentation. Another potentially useful enhancement: the ability to search in the body of messages.
7. AirPlay Mirroring
An opportunity for integration engagements involves configuring company meeting rooms with some iOS 5 enhancements. Apple enabled video mirroring in AirPlay, so that the screen of an iPhone 4S or an iPad 2 can be wirelessly streamed to an HDTV through Apple TV.
One of the most interesting elements Apple introduced earlier this month was the voice-recognition assistant called Siri. This isn't a strictly iOS 5 enhancement; for now, Siri requires the new iPhone 4S device to work.
Next page: Android "Ice Cream Sandwich"
Google Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" Launch: Expected in November
1. One OS Everywhere
Google is taking an important step with Ice Cream Sandwich in creating a unified OS for Google's smartphones and tablets. This is a key move for Google to make if it wants to match Apple and stay ahead of Microsoft. The idea with Apple is that developers like the way they can write apps for iPhone and iPad in pretty much the same process. Microsoft would presumably have the same advantage with Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets, but many months later than Google. For now, partners considering a platform for app development will need to look hard at the potential reach of Google's Ice Cream Sandwich.
2. Voice Recognition
Google added a new voice input engine in Android 4.0 for dictating e-mails or texts while driving or otherwise not wanting to type. Notice a trend? Apple's Siri is making a splash and Mango greatly enhanced voice recognition. The across-the-board action on voice recognition should be a signal to any partner that no matter the platform, the technology is approaching ubiquity and needs to be factored into solutions.
3. Face Recognition Security
New classes of devices are unearthing interesting new security paradigms. One of them is face recognition security in Android 4.0, which uses the phone's camera and software to authenticate the user.
4. Android Beam
Google is giving major billing to Android Beam, which is a way of bumping two Ice Cream Sandwich-based phones together to share documents wirelessly and securely using near-field communication (NFC) chips in the phone. Google's Andy Rubin, senior vice president of mobile, blogged that Beam will allow users to "share webpages, YouTube videos, maps, directions and apps."
Google rethought multitasking with Ice Cream Sandwich, plugging in a virtual button for multitasking from any screen and redesigning the app launcher. It's one of several UI enhancements that make the new version of Android look very different from older versions.
6. Universal Copy and Paste
Android had copy-and-paste capability before, but the fragmentation of Google's handset and app ecosystem meant it didn't always work. Ice Cream Sandwich introduces a universal way of copying and pasting that should help. This is a critical feature for business users, who will want to copy information, data and links from the browser and other sources and paste it into documents and messages.
We found more business-focused enhancements for Microsoft partners in Windows Phones than the other platforms, but that makes sense. Windows Phone is the least mature of the three. Microsoft touts 500 feature improvements in Mango compared, for example, to the 200 Apple claims for iOS 5. In short, Windows Phone had much more catching up to do in this release than its competitors. Meanwhile, many of the iOS 5 enhancements go a long way toward unifying the iPhone experience across apps, undercutting some of the innovation advantage Microsoft brought to the table.
Ice Cream Sandwich is the hardest of the three updates to draw conclusions about because it's the only one that's not already in the market. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the device used to show off Ice Cream Sandwich's new features this week, won't be available until November. Nonetheless, the smartphone-tablet integration, especially, has huge potential.
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.