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Lync Mobile – First Look

Sunday night at about 7pm Chicago time, I downloaded and installed the Lync Mobile client for Windows Phone 7. In a sad reflection on what passes for excitement in my life, I had been checking about a few times an hour Saturday and Sunday; I probably hit the App Marketplace 50 times on Sunday before striking gold.

I quickly sent a message to the rest of the PointBridge UC team and a bunch of us began fiddling around with the new client.

First I should mention: you need to read and follow the Lync Server Mobility guide exactly to the letter. You cannot just install the Lync client – you need to have patched the Lync servers, added the mobility and autodiscover services, re-configured your Lync cert & created a new ISA/TMG rule. There are a lot of instructions and you really can’t afford to skim. More about this later.

I’ve had a full day use the client and test things out. Here’s what I’ve gleaned so far:

Aesthetics

  1. The interface is nice. It’s a good looking client that has a consistent look carried over from the desktop client.
  2. I like the integration with the mobile OS – especially the “live tile” concept. I have the Lync client pinned to the main screen on my phone. When I have a new IM sent to me, the tile shows the number of new notifications / missed notifications
  3. The threaded IM view is nice. The conversations are easy to read and easy to follow.
  4. Using groups (and, my favorite, e-mail distribution groups”) provides for a nice way to easily view contacts. Having one giant list of 400 people is not conducive to mobile usage.
  5. The pivot, or “swipe”, to see all current conversations is fantastic. This solves an age-old problem of how to organize many conversations with limited real estate.
  6. People’s pictures don’t appear in the client – unless the pictures have been uploaded to AD. For me this means 99% of the pictures don’t appear.

It’s obvious a lot of time and effort went into the UI. This is a nice Windows Phone 7 app that feels “right”.

Features

  1. IM & Presence works well, as expected
  2. 1-touch joining conference calls also works well
  3. Managing a roster for
  4. “Call from work” is nice – calls from your mobile
  5. No VOIP
  6. No Video
  7. No desktop sharing

This is the area where I was hoping for more. The IM and Presence is great & I am happy to have the one-touch join. The lack of voice and video was expected, but nonetheless too bad. There is a “workaround” in that I can call a contact from my Lync Mobile client, but it really just initiates a call from Lync server to my cell and bridges me in with my contact. This is ok, but not VoIP.

Performance

  1. The client itself is responsive, the interface is pretty snappy.
  2. I ran the client for about 24 hours straight. After regular usage (listened to a podcast, replied to several e-mails, web browsing, a couple phone calls) on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks for 23 hours, I finally ran out of battery. This is a huge improvement over the old mobile client.
  3. The client does run in the background & doesn’t seem to be draining the battery much if at all. I’m sure I’ll have more info after a full week, but so far so good. I am attributing this to the brand-new support of push notifications.

Performance is where the Lync Mobile client has made the biggest improvements. While the features have not advanced much, this is a VERY usable client. It is reliable, easy to use, and it won’t kill your battery.

Conclusions

The new Lync Mobile client is an uber-awesome IM platform. You can really keep this service running on your phone at all times – which makes it different from almost any other IM-like application we’d seen to date. Status updates happen quickly, threads are easy to follow. This is EXACTLY what a mobile IM client should be & goes some distance towards making text messaging in the enterprise irrelevant.

However – I truly was hoping that it would go beyond that and be what a mobile UC client should be. Not just mobile IM. I sent a request to a couple folks in Redmond to see if they could provide some insight here. The features of the new client are exactly like the features of the old OCS mobile client. Many of the people I’ve talked to at various customers / Microsoft Partners feel the same way. It’s been a year in development, and the end-user functionality doesn’t seem any different than what we had for all those years with OCS. I haven’t had a chance to converse with any of the Redmond folks to go over this in detail yet, but I would like to better understand what the thinking is. I hope to talk with them soon and blog about some of their insights. Until then you are stuck with my conjecture:

Why did it take a year to essentially provide the same features of the old client? I can think of a three important factors

  1. Microsoft has re-written the mobile underpinnings of Lync, which is no small feat. The new mobile client uses web calls rather than emulate the Lync fat client. This has obvious benefits for scalability and performance. I can see this is laying the foundation for future, proper mobile infrastructure. Xync is a much more feature-rich client – but it’s a mobile port of the Lync fat client. This may not hold up under the stress of 10,000 users with mobile devices.
  2. Microsoft wrote not just a Windows Phone 7 client, but an iPhone, Android, and Symbian client. This is another huge departure from the old way of doing things. This wasn’t just a dev effort for Windows phones.
  3. Most importantly: Xync or other rich 3rd party clients require a LOT of smarts in the mobile client itself. The MS Lync client is probably pretty dumb and lightweight, relying on the server to do the heavy lifting. The future of mobility is having thin, light clients (almost “wrapper-like”) that are easy to make for all the mobile platforms & leave all the hard core development to the web service. HTML5 wrappers may well kill the app – according to this publication from AT Kearney.

I really did want to see more feature parity with the desktop client; the mobile world is a demanding world. But I think if given the choice between throwing out a feature-rich mobile client and properly laying the groundwork for a real mobile strategy, Microsoft probably made the right decision. This goes a long way to explaining why organizations had to patch Lync servers, add new services, update certs, update publishing rules etc. This wasn’t just about getting a client out, it was about adjusting the Lync architecture to account for mobility – both now and in the future.

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One thought on “Lync Mobile – First Look

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