Sorry Apple fan boys, it’s not iOS. And no, WP8.1 isn’t it too. Or did you really think that WP 8.1 had any impact at all? Besides Nokia. And WP10 is still not out there. Leaves us with Android, but while Android did a lot for the mobile net (some call it fragmentation, but in facts its empowerment of millions and millions of people to be able have a smartphone), it`s impact on your life isn`t as great as you think.
Windows Mobile/CE. Yes, that’s the mobile OS that impacts your daily life most. Without WM, the world wouldn’t be what it is today. The world economy is a global economy, and common business processes are used by a variety of companies. And when it comes to logistics, warehouse, material management, they have at least one thing in common: the process depends on field workers to enter data into the ERP system. These people use rugged devices for their work, and even in 2015, THE mobile OS for a rugged device is WM 6. Rugged devices are costly, come with a high level of support and are used to run processes that are put in place to work for years. Or a decade. And rugged devices are meant to support these processes. This implies that a process that went live in 2005 is still valid. Guess the mobile OS available in 2005: Windows Mobile (or CE).
When you buy something at a store, most likely that good passed somewhere in the process a WM rugged device. Or take field workers (energy companies, water, telecommunications, etc). When they have to check the equipment out in the field, guess what they have with them to register the captured data: a rugged device running WM. This should explain why support for WM is important for companies. And why a good mobile solution made to support corporate processes comes with WM support. You do not want to lose those companies as customers. What their field workers do is running the company. Without that, the company cannot run successfully. When you see an announcement that company A is going live in 2015 with a mobile solution running on WM 6.5, don’t thing that the company missed an important trend in mobility. They are actually following best practices and are aligned with a mobile strategy for companies. And if you are a mobile consultant that wants to help companies running their processes mobile, do not expect your clients to go for iOS, Android or WP10. There IS interest for those OS, but I reality can be cruel.
The field workers using those devices depend on them, as does the process and the company. Before a plane can take off, it needs to be inspected. The people doing this are not using paper. Same for an inspector at a harbor. As you might guess, these workers do not really care about UX, but on how to get their work done. Here we can see the main difference between the mobile world known to normal people and corporate mobile world. What is the difference between those business processes that run better when supported by a mobile device? And why is it so hard to make that device a “modern” smartphone? One important aspect is the lifetime. Those processes have a long lifetime. It can take months, or years for them to start being operational. See them using the same mobile device class for at least 5 years is common, if not 10 years. The HW vendors have adopted themselves to this. They do not only sell the devices, but support, software, etc. When a device needs to be replaced after 6 years, they can deliver. Try to get an iPhone that’s 6 years old!
Does this mean that there is no future for Android et al? Of course there is. Microsoft stopped developing of WM a while back; the vendors are moving on to Android. This is a slow process. A company that starts today with WM, expects to get a replacement unit in 3 or 5 years. And even in 7 years they won`t be happy when they cannot get a device that runs their software. WM will be offered for some time to come. Another point is that those rugged devices are not only ugly, but a certified to run under specific environmental conditions. Some areas you can only access when the device is certified to work under this conditions. Obtaining these certifications is not easy, it takes time and a stock Android / iPhone does not meet the criteria. The device needs to be built for those.
To be honest, the actual number of areas where you really need a rugged device is not as high as the vendor marketing thinks it is. In most cases a rugged case is more than enough to keep the dust away, or the water, or the humidity. A company can save money when they are aware of this and not strictly bound to a rugged device. A cheap smartphone can be used – no chip needed, just WiFi. An iPod is enough! The UX can be increased drastically. Although there are still a lot of parameters to be considered, like gloves, keyboard, battery life and of course: what happens in 5 years? Will it still be possible to replace the device? Will the software run on a next generation device?
Next time you go to the grocery store, turn on your light at home or take a flight, think a second about it what it takes to offer you the service you are used to. And that it won`t be possible without Microsoft and a not-so-loved but really useful mobile operating system.