Google has finally pulled out the big guns with its enterprise mobility offerings, today announcing a set of mobile device management, security and device standards it’s pulled together under the banner of Android for Work.
As Google reminded the enterprise in its announcement, a billion people now possess Android phones, but “for the majority of workers, smartphones and tablets are underutilised in the workplace”, with “potential” remaining “untapped”.
While the company didn’t go so far as to say that Android is often losing out in enterprise environments due to ongoing concerns about security – particularly in the public sector – as well as fragmentation between version numbers, the features it has brought together today display a good understanding of this fact.
It’s also announced tie-ups with SAP, Airwatch, SOTI, Citrix, BlackBerry, HTC, Sony, Dell, LG, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Salesforce, Adobe, Box and others in order to achieve the goals.
Android for Work, then, sports four “key technology components”, according to Google.
First up is “Work profiles”, which build on the multi-user support found in the last few versions of Android, but strengthens security by keeping critical data in a siloed profile of its own. This is a fairly traditional way of managing BYOD devices, but Google clearly hopes giving end users of its platform a more natively-designed ability to keep IT out of their personal files may encourage the use of personal devices in the office. It is only designed to function on the current version of Android, however – Android 5.0 Lollipop (and presumably subsequent versions).
Luckily, the Android for Work app is designed to plug that gap for older Android devices or operating systems, though still only for Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) through to KitKat (4.4). But if your IT department’s devices fit into those categories, Android for Work will offer “secure mail, calendar, contacts, documents, browsing and access to approved work apps”, all managed completely by IT.
Google Play for Work is a form of enterprise app distribution, which will let IT deploy and manage apps through the familiar consumer Google Play interface, while a suite of built-in productivity tools on the Android for Work platform will strengthen Android’s core abilities in email, contacts and calendar – with Exchange and Notes support.
The aforementioned partners will specifically bring, says Google, standardised management APIs for EMM (enterprise mobile management) partners such as SOTI, Airwatch and MobileIron, while software vendors such as Salesforce, Box and SAP will apparently deliver “a single version of any Google Play app that can be securely deployed to any Android device” (we presume after Ice Cream Sandwich – particularly as Google continues to defend its decision to stop updating security protocols on older devices), and “without alterations or wrapping”.
Device partners are said to be working on creating “devices and experiences that add additional value for customers”, in perhaps the vaguest part of Google’s announcement. Whether, for example, standardised Android UIs for the enterprise can be expected or not remains to be seen.
While enterprise device administrators are invited to <a href="http://redirect.viglink.com?key=11fe087258b6fc0532a5ccfc924805c0&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Fwork%2Fandroid%2F%22%3E"learn more", the financial cost of what we presume will be contractual rollouts have not yet been discussed.
Still, Google has presented what can only be called an enthusiastic stab at solving enterprise security doubts that partner EMM firm SOTI gleefully reported today are still being voiced by 40 per cent of Android users in the global business community. SOTI also stated that “nearly half” of enterprises it spoke to “do not offer an official management program for mobile devices”.
While it will be interesting to see whether an Android-branded, gargantuan EMM push supported by every vendor under the sun can change what amounts to basic laziness in many enterprises, there’s no doubt that Android for Work’s attempt to pool together device and software limitations for cross-compatibility may prove a tempting option.
Android for Work may also keep the wolves from the door at BlackBerry, as the tumbling phone firm has joined the platform under the security banner, bringing BES12 along for the cross-compatible ride.
“The BES12 solution will seamlessly integrate with the Android OS to enable platform-level containerization,” said BlackBerry.
“This will eliminate the need for application wrapping, while providing unhindered access to Google Now and any Android application available on Google Play that is permitted by an organization’s IT policies.”
But for those still not tempted to shell out on BES12 as well as Google for Work, BlackBerry is also offering BBM Meetings, BBM Protected, VPN Authentication and WorkLife as Android for Work applications.
Is Android for Work an unstoppable coalition of seamless partnership thinking, or an unwieldy, multi-limbed monster that risks tripping over like a big snow robot in Star Wars? Leave your views below.