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Windows 10 Mobile could boost Microsoft smartphone adoption

Microsoft is still struggling to gain traction in the mobile device market, but Windows 10's focus on cross-device interoperability is its best chance to change the company's enterprise prospects.

With Windows 10 touting a seamless, multi-device platform, the enterprise community might finally be ready to embrace Windows smartphones -- at least that's what Microsoft is banking on.

The timing is perfect: Many laptops and other computing devices are reaching end of life, and the enterprise is looking for updated technologies that allow workers to be more productive remotely. Microsoft is already the leader in enterprise desktops, but if Windows 10 -- and the mobile device version, Windows 10 Mobile -- can follow through on features such as universal Windows apps, that could make it the mobile OS of choice among enterprise IT.

Windows 10 Mobile (preceded by Windows Phone) will be available in either September or October 2015, and the updated mobile OS will be a free download for smartphones and tablets smaller than 8 inches.

Employees understand the Windows OS

Like most mobility geeks, I have several laptops and tablets running a variety of OSes, but I tend to be more conservative in regard to the workplace, striving to induce change without corrupting productivity. My recommendations always center on moving the workforce to more modern computing technologies that don't represent such a fundamental change that the learning curve becomes a learning downward spiral.

Windows 10 Mobile could be Microsoft's last and best chance to penetrate the smartphone market.

Despite the growing number of Apple devices coming into the enterprise, Windows still reigns supreme in overall installs, as it has for the past three decades. Most employees don't have much say over what PC they use, but the corporate computing structure is built around the Windows platform, so either by choice or force, they are dependent on Windows.

Although the bring your own device trend diminishes IT's input, that familiarity is a good reason for companies transitioning to a more mobile workflow to choose Windows for mobile devices. Sticking with Windows maintains the status quo, whereas introducing a new OS requires employee training and reduced productivity as workers learn a new platform. It's challenging and expensive for organizations to shift to a different platform, and Microsoft is hoping that will sway enterprise IT's decisions for company-owned mobile devices.

Why choose Windows smartphones

This brings us to Microsoft's much-anticipated Windows 10 release. In the past, companies have been slow to upgrade Windows, but organizations should move to this new platform as soon as they can.

Here are a few reasons why Windows 10 uptake might also encourage employees and IT to adopt Windows 10 Mobile phones at work:

Desktop-mobile hybrid user interface. There will certainly be less of a learning curve for employees to perform work tasks on a mobile device that shares the same OS as their company PC. Although Windows 10 has a new user interface (UI) and includes elements of the Windows 8 Metro-style UI, the well-known Start menu is returning as a central point of navigation.

Compatibility with existing hardware. Between laptops, tablets and smartphones, employees aren't carrying just one device anymore. The ideal scenario is to have them all run on one OS that provides a seamless and synchronized interface. With the new OS, Windows 10 Mobile phones will basically act like an extension of the PC, featuring universal Windows apps that share the same core technology and design as their PC counterparts, plus universal notifications that synchronize across all Windows 10 devices. Android and iOS devices can't compete with that compatibility.

Microsoft Office still works best on Windows. Most employees use Office as their productivity suite of choice. Although Microsoft opened up some of its Office apps to iOS and Android, enterprises fret over managing and securing the Outlook apps for iOS and Android, which do not allow third-party mobile application management (MAM). IT can only use Microsoft Intune for MAM, which means security-conscious organizations may prefer users stick to using Outlook on Windows.

Plus, even though the Office for iOS and Android apps are now free to consumers for basic functionality, Microsoft still requires an Office 365 subscription to use them in the enterprise and to access some of the apps' advanced features.

Predicting future infrastructure. Windows 10 will work with existing on-premises technologies, so companies can keep their Active Directory and Windows Server. This being said, I hope to see more companies move to the cloud with Office 365, Azure and SharePoint. Cloud enables greater mobility in the workforce while also reducing the footprint and cost of on-premises infrastructure. Companies making the switch might see the value of investing in Windows 10 Mobile smartphones that can take advantage of Microsoft's cloud infrastructure.

Opportunities for unified communications. Windows 10 Mobile device users can take advantage of Skype for Business -- previously Microsoft Lync -- which allows employees to communicate beyond simple email. Windows 10 integrates features including direct and group messaging, softphones for smartphones and tablets using voice over IP service and video conferencing across devices.

More frequent OS updates. Microsoft has positioned Windows 10 to be the start of a new technique for OS upgrades: The company will automatically update Windows 10 desktops and tablets with the latest patches and new features. If Windows 10 Mobile also follows this method, it will be a welcome strategy more in line with what iOS and Android smartphone users are accustomed to.

Windows 10 Mobile could be Microsoft's last and best chance to penetrate the smartphone market. I have long waited for the day when I could tell company leaders that employees could be as productive from their phone as they are from their laptops, and Windows 10 is on track to achieve this with the seamless cross-device interoperability.

It will be interesting to see if Microsoft's new operating platform can spur Windows smartphone adoption in the enterprise. Hopefully we will see some trailblazing companies take the leap.

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