WindowsIT writer and blogger Paul Thurrott recently confirmed information first reported on pocketnow.com about the next version of Windows Phone (codenamed Apollo, but presumably Windows Phone 8). Among the most interesting revelations to us as Windows Phone application developers is the purported integration with Windows 8. According to these reporters:
"Windows Phone 8 won't just share a UI with the next-generation desktop and tablet OS, apparently: it will use many of the same components as Windows 8, allowing developers to ‘reuse — by far — most of their code’ when porting an app from desktop to phone…He specifically mentions the kernel, networking stacks, security, and multimedia support as areas of heavy overlap."
The ability to write an application once, then tweak it for release on both the desktop and mobile versions of Windows significantly increases the reach of applications and could dramatically reduce development costs. For many of our broadcast and entertainment clients, the top priority is not to pick a single platform for distributing their content, but to have their content available on every platform possible. This synergy would allow for rapid deployments and new version pushes to phones, Windows 8 tablets, desktops and laptops. Microsoft would then have a true ecosystem of devices for publishers to target.
It seems Windows Phone 8 will also dramatically boost the platform's appeal to business users and IT managers:
"Windows Phone 8 will include full-device, hardware-accelerated encryption with BitLocker and always-on Secure Boot capabilities, just like Windows 8. Also, it will support additional Exchange ActiveSync policies and System Center configuration settings and inventory capabilities. Businesses will be able to distribute phone apps privately as they can with Windows 8 apps."
It's starting to sound like the device ecosystem paradise IT managers and CTOs have been clamoring for — file security, secure boot, the ability to manage desktops and mobile devices centrally, and the expanded ability to create and distribute internal applications for both. Imagine an internal series of sales or productivity apps that work on your company's laptops, tablets, and phones. This creates a profound advantage to adopting the Windows / Windows Phone ecosystem. And while consumer usage of mobile devices garners the most headlines, business mobile device usage (outside of the "bring your own device" model) is a largely untapped market, and it looks like Microsoft will be making a solid play for that business.
Remarkably, looking through user comments and other online posts about these revelations, most commenters have ignored this massive new feature set and instead are focusing laser-like on a single line that indicates the possible resurrection of a dreaded foe: ActiveSync.
"Moreover, Windows Phone 8 will reportedly scrap integration with the desktop Zune client in favor of a syncing relationship with a dedicated companion application. In other words, Microsoft is bringing back a (presumably) richer version of ActiveSync after letting that program die out for the most part."
The comments, roughly translated, range from "huh?" to "you may take our lives, but you cannot take…our Zune client!" The preference of Zune over ActiveSync is understandable from an end-user perspective – Zune is gorgeous and "just works" for the most part. Anyone who ever used a Windows Mobile device back in the day (like my well-loved Dell Axim) still wakes up in a cold sweat from time to time after a "how do I get this @#%$#@! thing to connect?" nightmare. But the focus here is not the end user, it's the business IT manager. A revived ActiveSync-style client makes sense. It is doubtful that Zune will go away for media syncing and general usage. But a new type of client that allows IT managers to manage devices across the enterprise will unlock the doors of adopting across entire companies for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 tablet devices.
One last bit that is profoundly promising:
"The biggest news on the app front is probably the addition of native code support, which will enable more powerful applications as well as ease the porting of code from programs initially developed for iOS or Android."
Native code support has been on the wish list of most Windows Phone developers from the beginning. Our developers have been wistfully pining for it since the first day we were handed a pre-production Garmin brick of a Windows Phone 7 as part of our work on an app for the Windows Phone 7 launch announcement key note at MIX. Native code opens up portability of other apps as well as better access to certain functionality, and it would certainly signal a maturing of the Windows Phone Development Environment.
Taken together, it looks like the next version of Windows Phone will provide an excellent set of new opportunities for developers and businesses alike. As long as the new ActiveSync-esque client doesn't trigger flashbacks to the early 2000s.