]On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that U.S. wireless carriers have started rolling out its latest mobile OS, Windows Phone 7.5 (WP7.5), formerly known as "Mango," to Windows Phone customers. All users can expect to get the new software by the end of October.
I sat down with Microsoft's Paul Bryan, Windows Phone senior director of product management and enterprise experiences, at the company's New England Research & Development center in Cambridge, Mass.--aptly dubbed the "NERD" center. And Bryan shared his opinions on the most valuable new, enterprise-related features and enhancements in the WP7.5.
(Also check out my "Windows Phone 7.5 'Mango': 10 Things You Need to Know" post for more details on Microsoft's new software.)
1) "Elegant" E-Mail Conversation Views
Windows Phone 7.5 features a number of e-mail related enhancements, the most notable of which is what Bryan calls "elegant conversation view," a cool, detailed way of looking at e-mail history. What sets this new e-mail view apart from more traditional e-mail strings, according to Bryan, is that it uses the conversation ID from Exchange to ensure you see the full set of e-mail in a conversation.
"This includes replies from you as well as e-mail in other folders." Bryan says. "E-mail that includes multiple replies shows a vertical bar next to the message. With a single tap of the message, the user interface elegantly expands to show the entire conversation, from which you can select specific replies or the entire conversation and take action such as mark as read, delete or move."
Bryan says this approach is better than traditional "group by subject'" e-mail threads, because such threads often don't show your replies and can miss e-mail messages if the subject line is changed in the reply. The way the UI shows on Windows Phone 7.5--expanding the conversation within the list of e-mails versus taking you to a separate conversation view-- makes for a much more intuitive user experience compared to some other smartphones, he says.
2) Microsoft Office 365 Integration
Windows Phone 7.5 includes "auto-discovery" and "auto-provisioning" support for Office 365 accounts, according to Bryan. WP7.5 users can set up Exchange and SharePoint access quickly and easily by clicking on the Office 365 links in the device's "Office Hub" and entering in their associated usernames and passwords.
WP7.5 is the only smartphone with the SharePoint Mobile client built-in, so users can easily access, edit and synchronize SharePoint documents from Office 365 sites, Bryan says.
3) Support for Information Rights Management (IRM) via Exchange
Windows Phone 7 devices currently cannot view contents of messages with Microsoft Exchange Information Rights Management (IRM) restrictions tied to them, but WP7.5 adds new support for rights-protected messages sent from Exchange e-mail accounts, Bryan says.
Microsoft Logo Outside Its New England R&D Center
Recipients of protected messages who use WP7.5 devices now see a small lock icon at the top of a rights-protected e-mail message that indicates the message has some type of IRM tied to it. WP7.5 maintains rights protection policies so if a message and its attachments are set to "Do not forward," for example, the forward menu option is "grayed out" so users can't click it, according to Bryan
"And pressing on the lock icon provides the user with an explanation of the policy applied to the particular e-mail," Bryan says.
4) Support for Alphanumeric Passwords
Windows Phone 7 only supports "simple," or numeral-based, passwords, but WP7.5 adds new support for alphanumeric passwords so organizations can employ more secure passwords composed of a combination of letters and numbers, according to Bryan. And IT administrators can push password-enforcement polices via Exchange that ensure users employ alphanumeric passwords. (Unfortunately, individual users who aren't connected to Exchange Servers still only have access to "simple," numeric passwords.)
5) Hidden SSID Support in Windows Phone 7.5
Windows Phone 7.5 now supports hidden SSID, which is the ability to connect WP7.5 devices to a wireless network that is not broadcasting its SSID. But this new feature is dependent on the chipset and drivers of the device, he says, so it's not available on current WP7 devices. It could be available on new WP7.5 hardware in the future, though, according to Bryan
Bryan also notes that "[s]ome organizations use SSID so as not to broadcast their wireless network information. However, it is widely recognized that this does not provide a material security benefit."
6) Windows Phone 7.5 "App Connect"
A new "App Connect" feature for Windows Phone 7.5 developers lets them create complex applications that can be tied to various additional phone functions, including search results, so if a user queries a specific term that's related to an app, he could see that application, or a part of that app, recommended as a result.
App Connect also let developers serve up "richer" content via "live tiles," which users can pin to their home screens for customized UI experiences. For example, a user who travels frequently could pin a tile to his home screen that provides pre-specified information on an upcoming flight, along with travel updates, etc., so he wouldn't need to open up an app to find the information. (Find additional information on the Windows Phone Developer blog.)
7) New Targeted Windows Phone App Distribution for Enterprises
Windows Phone 7.5 supports a new "targeted" application distribution method for enterprises. This new app distribution method enables organizations to submit mobile apps to the Windows Phone Marketplace, Microsoft's app store, as any developer would for approval and eventual distribution, but it differs in that businesses can now provide access to the app through a "deep link," according to Bryan, and the apps will not show up publicly through the Marketplace via search. This provides a way for organizations to distribute enterprise apps to large numbers of employees wherever they may be located.
"Security measures such as user authentication and authorization are handled within the app itself," Bryan says.
8) New App Switcher for Faster Device Navigation
Windows Phone 7.5 has a new software feature that makes it simple for users to jump back and forth between recently used applications, which is sure to assist busy businesspeople, Bryan says.
To access the new WP7.5 app switcher, you simply hold the "back" button for a few seconds until the five last-used apps appear in "windows" on your display. Then you just drag a finger along the screen until you see the application you want and tap it to quickly re-open the app.