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For Partners, Microsoft Expands on Windows Phone 8's Business Readiness

Without breaking any news on Windows Phone 8 at its partner confab last week, Microsoft did treat partners to a deeper dive into business features of the upcoming smartphone platform.

Thom Gruhler, Microsoft's new corporate vice president of Windows Phone Marketing, oversaw a guided tour of Windows 8 during a keynote at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.

Windows Phone 8 will release in more than 50 languages and the marketplace for the phone will be available in at least 180 countries later this year. Device makers already queuing up to release hardware are Nokia, HTC, Samsung and Huawei, while U.S. operators AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are reportedly planning to carry the devices this year.

Gruhler and his onstage demonstration partner, Augusto Valdez, put the phone OS through the same consumer-focused paces Microsoft executives Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore showed off in the Windows Phone 8 preview in late June, running through demos of the shared core with Windows 8, near-field communication (NFC), wallet features, maps and the more customizable Start screen.

In the June preview, Microsoft executives had declared that "Windows Phone 8 is business ready" but largely glossed over those details in favor of more exciting end user features. For the partner audience, more attuned to business requirements and in a position to help influence some customers' mass phone purchases and app platform choices, Microsoft devoted much more time to business features.

"With Windows Phone 8 we are continuing to push to make Windows Phone the world's best enterprise-class mobile platform, with new features and functionality that return us to our heritage as an early enterprise leader in the mobile space," Gruhler said at WPC.

He detailed three areas of significant business functionality in Windows Phone 8:

  • Stronger out-of-the-box integration with Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Lync.

  • Security features including secure boot and always-on data encryption using Microsoft's BitLocker technology. "This means you can now expand to sell mobile solutions to verticals like financial sector, government, health care and many more," Gruhler said.

  • Built-in technologies for enterprise mobile device management, with an emphasis on a simple user interface and integration with existing software management solutions.

The business feature that Gruhler and Valdez spent by far the most time on was Windows Phone 8's app distribution, which will allow customers to publish corporate apps on their own internal servers rather than requiring them to put the apps in a public app marketplace.

"With Windows Phone 8 enterprise organizations can take complete control over their LOB [line-of-business] apps, [which] gives you the opportunity to sell those solutions to customers who don't want their apps published broadly," Gruhler told partners.

In a demo, Valdez called the capability the "Company Hub," which is a kind of internal app that a company could deploy that would allow its Windows Phone 8-using employees to get company apps, company news updates and alerts about corporate password or license expirations, as well as maintain an employee profile. The Company Hub and its apps would be deployed from a management server inside the company and each phone would need a certificate to access the content.

Valdez explained how the Company Hub could provide opportunities for partners. "This concept of a Company Hub is going to be shipped as a template with Windows Phone 8. So, you are going to be able to customize Company Hub for your own customers. You can create those for them and then have those Company Hubs being deployed using the management server in each one of your customers at any time," Valdez said.

So in all at WPC, Microsoft executives described five key partner opportunities emerging from the business improvements in Windows Phone 8.

  1. Tighter integration with existing Microsoft server-based solutions, using Exchange, SharePoint and Lync.

  2. Vertical app opportunities in highly regulated industries due to stronger security.

  3. Mobile device management.

  4. Sophisticated, private deployment of custom apps for corporate customers through the Company Hub.

  5. Managed services around the maintenance of Company Hubs on customers' behalf.

Get more news and analysis from WPC 2012 here.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 18, 2012