Google (Finally) Launches Android for Work

Glenn Gruber | March 12, 2015 | Mobile Strategy

With the extremely successful launch of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple strengthened its stranglehold on the smartphone market and further consolidated its profit share of the entire mobile handset industry with estimates ranging from 89%93%.

As I laid-out in a post last summer, the lack of profits for Android handset makers posed an existential threat to the ecosystem. But the one place that still had the potential for profitable sales was the enterprise. And according to the latest Mobility Index Report from Good Technology, Apple’s lead in the enterprise is almost as strong as its lead in profits.
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Source: Good Technology, 2015.

Apple’s partnership with IBM to extend their lead in the enterprise is beginning to bear fruit. IBM claims participation of “more than 50 foundational clients including Air Canada, American Eagle Outfitters, Banorte, Boots UK, Citi and Sprint.” And in the most recent earnings-call Tim Cook noted that— as a result of this partnership—another 12 apps are slated to launch this quarter, bringing the total number of Apple-IBM apps to 22.

Enter Android for Work

Android for Work is Google’s strategy to turn the tide and establish Android as a dominant platform in the enterprise—the culmination of announcements made at Google I/O, Google’s purchase of Divide, and the integration of Samsung’s KNOX security layer in Android 5.0 (Lollipop). Support for devices running Android 3.0 and 4.x is provided through a separate app.

Some are bullish on the impact Android for Work may have in the enterprise, including Jason Wong, Principal Research Analyst in the Mobile and Client Computing group at Gartner Research, Inc., who told Mobile Enterprise:

“We believe that overall Android device usage in the enterprise has started to gain momentum due to enhancements released in Android 5.0 by Google. Specifically, Gartner predicts that by 2019, 60% of global enterprise managed devices will run on Android. We believe Samsung has the largest share of Android devices used in the enterprise, through both BYOD and corporate issued devices.”

Android for Work will be welcomed by corporate admins who want to support Android within in the enterprise but couldn’t figure out how to manage the breadth of devices in the market. Further, this will be a boon to Enterprise Mobile Management providers who had to patch together or build unique APIs to handle the varying capabilities and/or controls provided by different handset OEMs. The creation of a single set of APIs to manage this complexity across all Android devices is perhaps the most important takeaway of the announcement.

Some key functions of Android for Work are:

Security:

  • Containerization via the Divide acquisition is really the key here. Android for Work creates a secure Work Profile that isolates and protects data, enabling users to “use approved work apps right alongside their personal apps while IT administrators can easily manage business data on all Android devices.”
  • Android for Work apps are badged to indicate they are secured for work.
  • Business data is encrypted and can be remotely wiped, with additional VPN support for the work profile.

Management:

  • Companies may provision devices they own or configure work profiles on employee-owned devices.
  • Admins can remotely control all work-related policies, applications, and data, and can wipe them from a device without touching the device owner’s personal data.
  • EMM Integration: Manage Android devices with standard APIs via a single enterprise mobility management (EMM) console.

Application Deployment:

  • Securely deploy and manage apps across all users running Android for Work (via Google Play for Work), simplifying the process of distributing apps to employees and ensuring IT approves every app deployed. This should prove particularly beneficial for apps purchased in bulk and will streamline large-scale app deployments across the enterprise.
  • Manage application-specific Work Profile policies, white-list apps, and prevent installs from unknown sources

This MobileIron infographic hits the highlights:
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Partnerships are a Cornerstone

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Partnerships are a big part of the Android for Work program. Of course, nearly every Android OEM is represented, as are all major EMM platform providers (kinda hard to introduce an enterprise-friendly initiative without them; particularly since to enjoy the benefits of Android for Work, an approved EMM solution is required).

But there’s no point establishing a new enterprise standard platform if all you’re going to do is email, contacts, and calendar. If this were true, Blackberry would still be king of the hill— instead of buried six feet under it. Google does highlight some key software vendors in their announcement. A few years ago, when KNOX was first announced at MWC, a dozen or so app vendors were in their pavilion—SAP and Box among them. So it’s no surprise they are on the list today. I’m not sure what it takes to be badged an official partner, though the sign-up process seems pretty simple and the TOS pretty benign.

But the key to enterprise success is much more than just making third-party apps available. The key is to make life easy for enterprise developers who build the apps that redefine and optimize business processes. And this is where Google’s message shines brightest. Google promises a more streamlined approach to enterprise app development, allowing developers to create a single version of any Google Play app, which can then be deployed to any Android device—without alteration.

A Nod to Productivity

You can’t discuss the enterprise without mentioning productivity and collaboration. So Google does tout their suite of business apps to support, email, contacts and calendar (of course supporting Exchange and Notes) as well as Google Apps for Work as part of their “Gone Google” initiative. Though these are nothing to get excited about.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, Google’s initiative represents a strong push for the enterprise. One of the biggest IT pain points is managing the wide diversity of Android devices. Android for Work seems to greatly simplify things in this regard.

So what can we expect to see in the market?

While Apple devices are in favor with many executives, many and more employees don’t need the latest and greatest mobile devices. Android phones in the $150-$300 range would suffice for most business purposes—meaning a significant cost savings for the company.

Android’s best play may be to replicate the situation in the consumer segment where they (begrudgingly/won’t admit/at least that’s the way it has shaken out) cede the high-ground (i.e. executives) to Apple, but claim the majority of employee-shipments. While this may not be their stated goal, it would most certainly be a win for Android.

Does this announcement change the way you view Android in the enterprise? Please let me know in the comments.

Glenn Gruber

Glenn Gruber is a Sr. Mobile Strategist at Propelics. He leads enterprise mobile strategy engagements to help companies determine the best way to integrate mobile into their business -- both from a consumer-facing perspective, but also how to leverage mobile to empower employees to be more productive and improve service delivery through the intelligent use of mobile devices and contextual intelligence. Glenn has helped a wide range of enterprises on how to leverage mobile within their business including Bank of Montreal, Dubai Airports, Carnival Cruise Line and Merck. He is a leading voice in the travel sector as a contributing Node to Tnooz where he writes about how mobile and other emerging technologies are impacting the travel sector and a frequent speaker at industry events.

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