Microsoft at CTIA: Business + Lifestyle = Future of Mobile

October 24, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Enterprise, Events, Mobile

I’ve had a great couple of days at the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Wireless IT & Entertainment Conference in San Francisco catching up with old friends and colleagues in wireless and learning more about where the industry is going.  It all started with Tuesday’s keynote from Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, which CTIA themed “Enterprise.”

Yawn?   No way… Forget boring enterprise software, Ballmer made it clear that while Microsoft knows where its bread is buttered right now, their vision of the mobile future is equally bright for enterprise IT managers and consumers alike.

Microsoft has learned a ton about the mobile marketplace in the last couple of years through the release of Windows Mobile 5 and 6 and the evolution of their strategic partnerships with Mobile OEMs, ISVs, and operators, and it is arguably now the world’s leading expert in the combination of enterprise software, server infrastructure and mobile.  Unsurprisingly, convergence was a recurring theme in Ballmer’s keynote…

We have to meld these models of computing into one. That’s an innovation challenge. And we have to bring together the business models in ways that are acceptable. The business model for the world of phones and cellular devices is different than the PC business model is different than the advertising-based model that people associate with online. And I think what we’re going to find, if we want innovation to proceed at the most rapid pace, we have to meld and weave together those business models in a way that works for software developers, for users, for telecom operators, for content providers, and for software companies like Microsoft and others…

The phone has a unique role. While the PC is the most powerful device, the phone is the most popular device. It will be the device that we can most count on everybody in the planet having, and having available at any given time. But how do we evolve the phone so it participates fully in this world, fully in the lifestyle side of this world, and the work style side of this world? How do we bring all the business experiences and entertainment experiences of the other devices to the phone in an appropriate way? And that’s a great opportunity for innovation from Microsoft, and for all of us in the room participating in this industry...

In many countries, the phone will be the PC for people who have very little money. What does the docking station look like so that when you bring your phone home at night, it can use a simple, cheap keyboard, and it can use the video screen of the television set to become kind of a PC-like workstation for people who simply don’t have the financial resources for both devices?

While I was pleased to hear Ballmer allude to a converged future, it was at this point, that I was unavoidably distracted by the loud conversation of three men sitting in front of me:

Man 1 (wielding a Blackberry Pearl): “Who is this guy?”
Man 2 (also with Blackberry): “Steve Ballmer”
Man 3: “Who’s that?”
Man 1: “Yeah, what does he do?”
Man 2 (opens CTIA program and points to Keynote description of Ballmer)
Man 1 and Man 2 (in unison): oh

I was amazed and amused by what I was hearing…  Is there really a rock large enough to simultaneously shield two people in the IT industry from having at some point seen this on YouTube?:

How could anyone at a Wireless IT and Entertainment conference not know who the CEO of Microsoft is?!  I was dying to find out where they were from, but I couldn’t see their badges from behind, and I didn’t want to stare. 😉  Besides, I really did want to hear what Ballmer was saying:

…IT does need to control and manage some things that go on on these devices, and yet end users are going to want to be able to control what they do with the devices in their personal lives for sure. And we have to make sure there’s a rich set of tools that will support both the end user and the IT department to let these devices fulfill a broad set of work needs...

One of the major investments that we have made, which we are really announcing today is something we call the Microsoft System Center, which is the brand name for our line of enterprise IT management tools, Mobile Device Manager. This is a product that helps IT manage, secure, and provide secure access for phones that are on the go. It increases that sort of general management capability. It will work with forthcoming versions of Windows Mobile devices. There will be updates starting Feb. 2 of next year, Windows Mobile phones will allow this product to work.

As someone who has worked with IT departments who are resistant to change, I appreciate Microsoft’s expression of a dual focus on IT and consumer.  It’s a tough line to straddle, but assuming they can get it right, balancing IT’s need for security with a consumer’s need for productivity, fun and privacy, will propel Microsoft forward in the mobile space.

Ballmer invited Brian Hoskins, Senior Product Manager the Mobile Communications Business, to demo the Microsoft System Center and Mobile Device Manager.  It was fantastic.  Device Management, Security Management, and Mobile VPN all in one.  No one in the mobile industry has done this successfully before, but Microsoft looks like it’s onto a winner.  Imagine:

  • never having to lose the settings on your device when you get a new one…
  • being an enterprise IT manager and using the same system for PCs and mobile to control devices and distribute policies…
  • total security with full file encryption
  • being an employee and VPNing in to see corporate information (CRM, eHR, etc.) securely from your phone from anywhere

Awesome.

AT&T is Microsoft’s launch partner for the Mobile Device Manager, and the Blackjack 2 is working with the Mobile Device Manager already.  HP, HTC, Intermec, Moto, and Palm are also working with Microsoft to bring the platform into use, and several systems integrators including a start-up called Enterprise Mobile (which is supported by Microsoft) and other systems integrators are also working on the project.

Moving from Enterprise to Lifestyle, Derek Snyder went on stage to demo some of Microsoft’s enhanced community, personal and social entertainment capabilities.   Productivity improvements to  Windows Mobile 6 include easier and more robust on-device search (including voice powered search with Live search), Windows Live, and Office Mobile.  The smart filtering technology makes sorting through masses of emails and contacts easy, without having to enter a specific search mode… Just type in the letters of the person or email you’re looking for, and results will filter.  There are also improvements to viewing photos and pictures on email.   Windows Live search is a free application that makes it easy for users to search for directions, restaurants, etc. all from the phone.  (I’ve tried it myself, and it’s great… Download all of the Windows Live apps from your mobile browser by clicking here.)

Entertainment-wise… Pocket Media Player Mobile and support for stereo bluetooth headsets make listening to music and watching video on a Windows Mobile 6 phone a breeze.  And, better yet, with 3 keystrokes, you can get to any song in your library of music.  It is also now possible to control Media Center programming via a Windows Mobile phone.  Using Media Center from a mobile phone is very similar to using it from home, as the two experiences mirror each other.  Derek even managed to record his ‘favorite show,’ (ahem) Oprah from his phone.  At one point, the phone Derek was using lost reception (bound to happen with so many people using mobile phones in one room) but with a quick slide of hand in the form of a almost un-noticeable swap of phones, the demo went on…

Social networking is also a focus for Microsoft.  Specifically, Windows Live Messenger is now running on mobile. You can send voice clips to friends via Instant Messager.  While not particularly revolutionary in scope, it is also possible to blog and upload photos from a Windows Mobile phone to a Windows Live Spaces blog in one click.  Interestingly, while there was no mention of Facebook on Tuesday, today, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft agreed to invest $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook Inc.

As a fan of Windows Mobile, I was pleased to hear about improvements to the platform.  I have high hopes for the future of Windows Mobile… While there is still a lot of work to be done, so far Microsoft is doing a great job of innovating and pushing the mobile industry forward.

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