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In-Depth

The 30 Best Mobile Apps for Microsoft Partners

Buried in the marketplaces maintained by Google, Apple and Microsoft are valuable smartphone and tablet apps that can help round out compelling solutions for customers. Here are the top 10 for each mobile platform.

Apps

In 2011, smartphones surpassed PCs in overall shipments worldwide, according to market researchers at IDC. By next year, they expect twice as many smartphones as PCs to ship, with media tablets also roaring to a larger share of the overall market.

What that means for Microsoft partners is that the days of thinking of solutions only in terms of applications running on PCs and servers -- and, more recently, the cloud -- are over. Partners not planning to retire right now need to be including smartphone and tablet apps as part of their broader solutions.

It just so happens that among the million-plus apps across the different app marketplaces, there are already a few that are almost tailor-made for solution providers with a Microsoft focus. The trick is finding them. The Apple App Store reportedly has more than 585,000 iPhone apps, and the Google Play marketplace sports 450,000. Even the fledgling Microsoft Windows Phone Marketplace is up to 80,000 apps.

What follows are the essential apps about which Microsoft partners need to know. We're not talking Angry Birds or Burn the Rope, the many Microsoft Office tutorials or the personal expense trackers. RCP's editors looked for the apps that will help partners do what they do best -- provide compelling solutions to customers that drive new value and improve productivity.

We've focused on three platforms in this report -- Google Android, Apple iPhone and Windows Phone. Android because it's the biggest smartphone platform by market share, the iPhone because it's the clear leader in apps, and Windows Phone because of the platform's many tight hooks into the Microsoft stack.

On RCPmag.com, we have similar lists for the Apple iPad, for Android tablets and for RIM BlackBerry devices, as well as a list of specialized apps designed for internal use by Microsoft partners.

CLICK TO JUMP: Android | iPhone | Windows Phone


Google Android

1. Android for Business Apps       
Over the last several years, Google has been building a channel community around the Google Apps for Business platform of productivity services. Many of the preinstalled apps on Android phones support Google Apps for Business, notably Gmail, Calendar, Talk and Google Search. A downloadable app for the Android is Google Docs, for reading, editing, and collaborating on documents and spreadsheets. (A Web app version is available for the iPhone, Windows Phone and BlackBerry. In the mobile app, all three phones can edit spreadsheets; only the iPhone can edit documents.) There are apps for Google Apps for Business administrators, as well. Google Apps Lookup allows users to look up people in a Google Apps Domain. Google Authenticator enhances security. Google Apps Device Policy includes services for finding or locking lost devices, as well as ways to enforce device policies. [DOWNLOAD: Google Docs | Google Apps Lookup | Google Authenticator | Google Apps Device Policy]

2. Documents To Go
For Microsoft partners looking to provide Microsoft Office documents in workflows and the myriad other ways their customers use the Microsoft suite, plenty of third-party Microsoft Office compatibility apps exist for the Android platform. Top among them, according to Google's (unsurprisingly) eminently searchable Google Play app market, is Documents To Go from DataViz Inc. A sign of the scale of Google's app community is the number of reviews for Documents To Go -- the free version is approaching 47,000 reviews and the $14.99 paid version has nearly 15,000 reviews. The app suite allows the creation and editing of Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, and viewing of PDF files. [DOWNLOAD]

3. HP ePrint Home & Biz
Partners installing or configuring Hewlett-Packard Inkjet and LaserJet printers can add a little spice to the local network by setting Android users up with wireless printing capabilities through this app. The 3.7MB app is free. [DOWNLOAD]

4. Splashtop Remote Desktop
Another way to access Microsoft Office documents, as well as anything else on a PC, is with a remote desktop app like Splashtop Remote Desktop from Splashtop Inc. (The product also works with Android tablets.) This can be a solution for customer scenarios that require video and audio streaming from a desktop to the phone. Splashtop Remote Desktop lists for $9.99 and is a 2.6MB download. [DOWNLOAD]

5. Jump Desktop
A popular remote desktop for both Windows and Mac in Google Play is Jump Desktop, a Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and Virtual Network Computing (VNC) app from Phase Five Systems LLC. The app costs $4.99 and is a 4.3MB download. [DOWNLOAD]

6. TouchDown with Exchange ActiveSync
Native mail applications running Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync get the basic job of mail delivery done most of the time, but when users want a richer experience, they turn to third-party apps. The most popular and highly rated of those on Android is TouchDown with Exchange Active Sync by NitroDesk Inc. The 5MB download is pricey for a mobile app at $19.99, but delivers an Outlook-like experience for users, with corporate-friendly features such as security policies, corporate data separation and mobile device management solution integration. [DOWNLOAD]

7. PocketCloud Remote Desktop
Wyse Technology Inc., which is in the process of being acquired by Dell Inc., makes another popular RDP and VNC client called PocketCloud Remote Desktop. The Pro version of the well-known thin-client vendor's offering costs $14.99, is a 4.4MB download and is also certified for use with VMware View. [DOWNLOAD]

8. PC Monitor
Remote monitoring of servers is a critical managed services provider (MSP) function. A few technologies offer the capability, including PC Monitor by MMSOFT Design Ltd. A free trial version allows for monitoring of three PCs with no time limit. In addition to notifications, the app allows admins to send commands to stop and start services. The product supports Windows XP and later desktops, Windows 2003 and later servers, major distributions of Linux, and Mac OS X 10.6 and later. This software isn't specialized for MSPs, but could be interesting in systems management software installations. An enterprise server, which is offered with a 30-day trial, is available to support the app in midsize companies. Versions of the app are also available for the iPhone and Windows Phone. [DOWNLOAD]

9. Skype
The Skype calling application is owned by Microsoft and supported on the Apple platform, but it finds its most natural smartphone home for now on Android devices. Apple has the proprietary FaceTime application, and Microsoft currently has few OEM devices sporting front-facing cameras. The Google platform doesn't suffer that problem. Whether it mostly gets used for video calling or just audio and messaging, Skype is huge on the Android platform. The free, 13MB app has a staggering 390,000 user ratings in Google Play. [DOWNLOAD]

10. Cisco Jabber
Partners with a Cisco Systems Inc.-based unified communications (UC) practice can set up customers with a Cisco Unified IP Phone on Android -- Cisco Jabber. Free, but requiring a Cisco Unified Communications Manager on the back-end, the app is an 11MB download. [DOWNLOAD]

Next Page: Best iPhone Apps >>

[Ed's Note: The version of this article that appeared in RCP's May 2012 print issue stated that PC Monitor's free trial version had a 30-day limit. The trial version has no time limit, according to a spokesperson. The article has been changed online.]

CLICK TO JUMP: Android | iPhone | Windows Phone


Apple iPhone

1. Citrix Receiver
There are few technologies as historically complementary to Microsoft's as those from Citrix Systems Inc. The company has been dovetailing nicely with Microsoft for decades. That makes Citrix Receiver a key app for Microsoft partners busy configuring Citrix-hosted applications at customer sites. While the idea of viewing a Windows application remotely is a more natural fit for an iPad-sized screen, Citrix has made some nice moves to integrate application menus into the native iPhone style. [DOWNLOAD]

2. GoToMyPC
Apple's high-profile decisions not to support Flash in iOS make remote PC access slightly more attractive on Apple devices than on other platforms, if only to get the full Internet browsing experience. A more important reason is the same for an Apple device as for any mobile platform: the ability to access the richer personal stores of information available on PC or Mac hard drives, which are massive compared to smartphone storage capacity. Citrix Online, Citrix System's online division, has a solution in the category called GoToMyPC. It's also available on Android, just as Wyse PocketCloud, Jump Desktop and Splashtop (listed previously) are available for iPhone users. GoToMyPC requires a subscription. [DOWNLOAD]

3. Lync 2010
When it came to meeting mobile demand for the UC server Lync 2010, Microsoft came down on the side of customer preference and market reach. Redmond could've chosen to support only the Windows Phone OS in an attempt to use the popularity of Lync to drive Windows Phone adoption. Instead, it appears the software giant concluded that such a decision would hurt Lync adoption more than it would drive Windows Phone sales. The 6MB Lync 2010 client for iPhone is free, but requires a Lync server deployment at the customer site and IT department activation for users. [DOWNLOAD]

4. Pages/Numbers/Keynote
On the Mac, Apple depends heavily on Microsoft Office for productivity apps. On the iPhone and the iPad, Apple is going it alone. While there are plenty of third-party Microsoft Office compatibles on iOS (QuickOffice, Office2, Documents To Go), Apple's own suite of productivity apps more than competes. Pages is the Word-compatible word processor, Numbers is the Excel-compatible spreadsheet and Keynote is the PowerPoint-compatible presentation software. All three are optimized for the iPad, but users needing to work on a phone could do worse. Each app is $9.99 and massive in download size (Pages, 269MB; Numbers, 283MB; Keynote, 327MB). [DOWNLOAD: Pages | Numbers | Keynote]

5. CWR Mobile CRM 2011
As Dynamics CRM users wait for the expected release this quarter of an official Microsoft Dynamics CRM app for iPhone, iPad and other platforms, there are third-party options already in the market to consider. One example is CWR Mobile CRM 2011 by CWR Mobility BV. The app is 4MB and is also available for the iPad. [DOWNLOAD]

6. SQL Server Mobile Database Client
Impathic makes a series of mobile database clients for the iPhone and iPad. The products allow remote access to browse, search and update databases from mobile devices. On the Microsoft side, the clients include SQL Server and Access. Impathic also covers Oracle, DB2, MySQL, PostgreSQL and Sybase. The iPhone version is 11.5MB and costs $9.99. [DOWNLOAD]

7. SonicWALL Mobile Connect
Following the partner-friendly business model of a free app to support back-end infrastructure is security vendor SonicWALL Inc. The company's SonicWALL Mobile Connect is a client providing network access to corporate resources over encrypted SSL Virtual Private Network connections. The 5.6MB app works with three different lines of SonicWALL security appliances. [DOWNLOAD]

8. Cisco OnPlus Mobile
Managing Microsoft software-based networks goes hand-in-hand with managing Cisco device networks for many Microsoft partners. Cisco has an app for its side of the bargain. Cisco OnPlus Mobile is a 4.7MB iPhone app for accessing customer networks and discovering, monitoring and managing their devices. [DOWNLOAD]

9. AD HelpDesk
One highly targeted Microsoft help desk app from Implbits Software LLC offers remote access to common Active Directory administrator tasks, especially secure password resets and modification of user accounts in Active Directory. [DOWNLOAD]

10. Outlook Web Email
Some customers have policies against allowing employees to connect their mobile devices to the Exchange Server, and offer Outlook Web App instead. While that access is fine from a PC browser, messages can be tough to read on a smartphone's smaller browser screen. A workaround option is Outlook Web Email from iKonic Apps LLC. The company's 3.3MB, $4.99 app wraps Outlook Web App e-mail, calendar and contact output in the more familiar and readable iPhone-style interface. [DOWNLOAD]

<< Previous Page: Best Android Apps
Next Page: Best Windows Phone Apps >>

CLICK TO JUMP: Android | iPhone | Windows Phone


Windows Phone

1. Outlook Client
Unlike other smartphone and tablet platforms, many of the most important features for Microsoft partner integration don't need to be downloaded via apps. Because a Windows Phone is a Microsoft device, a lot of Microsoft's most important business software is baked in. A prime example is Outlook, which connects easily to a Microsoft Exchange server (along with other non-corporate e-mail sources) for mail. Similarly, the built-in Calendar function does the same with the Exchange calendar for appointments.

2. Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office remains the industry-standard office productivity platform, and Windows Phone includes mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint as part of the base platform. Interoperability between documents on the phone and documents on the PC is pretty good, although documents created on pre-2007 versions of Office can only be viewed, not edited. OneNote is pre-installed in the Office Hub.

3. Office 365
Microsoft advertisements for Office 365 are ubiquitous on business Web sites these days. The company designed Windows Phone to be ready to take advantage of the Office 365 cloud productivity and collaboration technologies. In the Office Hub of the Windows Phone, users have the option of storing newly created Word, Excel or PowerPoint documents in Office 365, assuming the user's company subscribes to the service. Similarly, Windows Phone users can pull documents off the company's Office 365 service for editing.

4. SharePoint
Far more entrenched than Office 365 is Microsoft SharePoint, which is one of Microsoft's multibillion-dollar-a-year products. Corporate users of Windows Phone also have an option of storing and accessing Office documents in a company SharePoint 2010 site. In a base configuration, SharePoint 2010 can only be accessed by Windows Phone users while they're in the office and connected to the corporate Wi-Fi network. However, organizations can use the Microsoft Forefront Unified Access Gateway to allow external access (with the help of Microsoft partners).

5. Lync 2010
The Microsoft Windows Phone market share is surely not meeting the company's projections. Microsoft Lync Server, the UC platform, on the other hand, is generally exceeding Microsoft's expectations. The two products come together in the Lync 2010 mobile client, which shipped first for Windows Phone. The app's dependence on a Lync Server installed at the customer site on the back-end ensures that this mobile client will be part of a broader installation, often spearheaded by a Microsoft partner. Microsoft's support for multiple mobile platforms makes the solution even more compelling, although it will be interesting to see if Microsoft takes a Windows Phone-first attitude to new features. (For a precedent, consider the Microsoft Xbox app, which is much more capable on Windows Phone than on iPhones.) [DOWNLOAD]

6. SkyDrive
There's a third way to store files online from a Windows Phone and it's both integrated into the device and available as a download from the Windows Phone Marketplace. The integration offers SkyDrive as a file location for Office files and pictures. The free SkyDrive app allows for browsing or deleting files and creating or deleting folders. [DOWNLOAD]

7. Dynamics CRM
Microsoft currently has an app in the Windows Phone Marketplace for Dynamics CRM. A limited affair, the app brings Activity Feeds from Dynamics CRM to the Windows Phone. Sometime this quarter (by June 30), Microsoft has promised a much more robust mobile Dynamics CRM app. Interestingly, the initial version on Windows Phone won't support offline data, but offline data will be supported in native versions Microsoft is creating for the iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry. [DOWNLOAD]

8. My Business Server
Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2011 Essentials rates its very own Microsoft-created app. The free, 1MB app is intended for management of the server from a Windows Phone. In a move helpful to Microsoft Small Business Specialists, the app allows for storage of multiple server accounts for managing multiple servers. To work, the app requires a free server add-in from Microsoft and, of course, SBS 2011 Essentials. [DOWNLOAD]

9. Mobile Manager
There are third-party business apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace, although not a ton of them compared to what's in the Apple App Store and Google Play. One of those apps is the brand-new Mobile Manager from Level Platforms Inc. (also known as Managed Workplace 2012). Windows Phone is one of several platforms covered by the Level Platforms Managed Workplace 2012 Mobile Device Management. The others are iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Loading the app lets MSPs track mobile device locations, implement and enforce policies, collect and access information and remotely lock, restrict access to and wipe lost devices. [DOWNLOAD]

10. AppBuilder
AppBuilder by SYM is not a production-ready app like most of the others in this report. But it might be just as valuable. The app allows a non-developer Windows Phone user to build an app on the phone using wizards and files in the full Metro style. Once finished, the apps are functional and can be shared, although they can't be placed in the Windows Phone Marketplace. SYM describes AppBuilder as a rapid prototyping tool for brainstorming and idea visualization. For custom development partners and systems integrators, it's easy to imagine the tool in use during project scoping meetings with customers. It could also leverage creative app ideas from partner employees -- be they CEOs or administrative assistants -- with no coding skills. [DOWNLOAD]

<< Previous Page: Best iPhone Apps

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