Some good news for users of Windows Phone devices and customers of the cloud-based content sharing platform Box. The company has announced a new app for the platform — its first for a Microsoft mobile OS. With the app now available in the Windows Phone Marketplace, the relationship between the two is set to deepen in the months ahead, with Box already preparing Windows 8 support for tablets and other devices for when the new platform ships later this year. Separately, Box has announced a deal with Qualcomm offering special integration on devices running on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor.
The move to offer a Windows Phone app is significant on two levels: the first is that it underscores how important mobile, and being everywhere on mobile, is for Box’s longer-term success. Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box, says that already 40 percent of Box’s users are accessing Box from mobile devices, with that number growing fast. “We see a huge correlation between users adopting mobile, and users adopting Box,” he tells me. The second is that, for Windows Phone (be it 7 or 8) to have any hope of taking significant market share away from Android and Apple among smartphone users, it needs to make sure that it’s delivering on content. For enterprise users, that means support for services like Box’s, among others.
The challenge is big: figures from earlier this month from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech (a WPP market research division) noted that in a recent 12-week period, Windows Phone 7 accounted for less than five percent of all handset sales in several key markets like the U.S. and UK. One exception was Germany, where WP7 accounted for just over five percent.
Adding Windows Phone to the list of Box’s supported platforms — they also include Android, iOS, and RIM’s PlayBook (note, BlackBerry is not included) — Levie says, is a natural progression of the company’s strategy to go to all places where enterprises go.
That’s not to say that Box’s customers have been clamoring for WP7 support: Levie describes Windows Phones as “still emerging” when he talks to Box’s enterprise customers. Still, he thinks that longer term, we won’t be seeing consolidation on any single platform soon. “There will be five to 10 different operating systems that people are using and will use for core business processes,” Levie observes. That leaves an opening for Microsoft and its OEM partners.
“I think of this as an investment for us for the next couple of years,” Levie explains. “People are looking for different platforms. We had to make a choice to do this now because we are starting to see more traction on this and we wanted to get out ahead of that.”
And here’s a clue as to who is Microsoft’s biggest competition at the moment for mobile enterprise users: He adds that today, by volume, Android is the most popular OS in terms of Box usage, although he says that is by virtue of Android being the world’s most popular smartphone platform. But when it comes to engaged usage on a per-user basis among Box’s paying enterprise customers, iOS is winning out, he says.
“Android by volume is the most used but we see more iOS in the enterprise,” he notes. “When you look into the enterprise customer base you see more iOS usage on both tablets and phones. The sheer magnitude of iPads means they’re way ahead there.” In conversations with clients, he says that iOS rates as the “dominant environment” in about 6-7 out of every 10 businesses.
The new Windows Phone app will have all the same features as Box’s apps for other platforms. Those include the ability to make batch uploads of multiple images and videos; share files and folders as links; invite colleagues to shared folders and leave comments on files; find content with integrated search. Additionally on Windows, users will be able to pin Live Tiles to their Start screens to see updates on files by colleagues, and protect content with an application passcode lock. As with the other apps, free users get five gigabytes of free space, while enterprise get unlimited storage.
Levie says that the app was developed in close collaboration with both Microsoft and Nokia, its biggest OEM partner (and the one who has the most to lose if Windows Phone doesn’t fly). He wouldn’t comment on whether that included financial assistance of any kind except to note that the companies have a “healthy relationship” with Box. Both Microsoft and Nokia have been fairly open so far about helping finance development of apps for the Windows Phone ecosystem. “It’s been good to work with them,” he tells me.
As for the tablets, Levie says that Box will be revealing more details on that as the release of Windows 8 approaches. For that, he says Box is working not just with Nokia but with a number of other players. “Nokia is one of the strongest, though,” he told me.
Separately, Box is also announcing a partnership with Qualcomm in which it will also be offering free storage space to users of devices built with Snapdragon processors, another signal of how Box hopes to keep scaling up its customer base. The deal will mean OEMs using Qualcomm’s processors on supported platforms can preload Box’s app and offer users 50GB of free storage space — similar to the deal that Box has crafted with companies like LG. Windows 8 tablets will be among the devices that will use Snapdragon processors, Box notes.