The Android operating system is getting more popular by the day. According to research from Canalys, U.S Android smartphone shipments grew 851% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2010 as compared with 2009, collectively representing 34% of the smartphone market.
The Nielsen Group reported that Android smartphones overtook the iPhone in the second quarter of 2010, and most recently, the NPD Group found that Android-enabled devices ousted even BlackBerry devices as the most widely sold smartphones in the U.S. in the that quarter. By all accounts, Android is here to stay.
Combining the trend towards individual-liable devices in the enterprise with the fact that Android continues to gain ground on the other, more established mobile operating systems, one very important question arises: is Android enterprise-ready?
Standardizing the platform
There are many reasons for Android's success. First, there is a wide range of vendors of Android phones: HTC, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and LG, among others. Users can choose which smartphone has the right design and features for them without being locked down to a specific manufacturer.
Secondly, Android is not tied to a single wireless carrier. Android phones can be found on such carriers as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, so again, users have a choice in which carrier best fits their needs.
However, all of these choices can be a detriment when it comes to the standardizing on the Android OS.
"Android is a fractured environment," explains Chris Hazelton, Research Director of Mobile & Wireless at The 451 Group. "Different smartphone vendors have different versions of Android running on their devices, and because of this, you can't standardize IT administration on Android."
Compare this to iPhone and BlackBerry. While each has a variety of devices to choose from, and even with BlackBerry's extensive range of devices, each brand is standardized on one OS. And that one OS has one standard user interface (UI).
That brings up another challenge for IT managers working with Android devices: the variety of user interfaces on different brands of Android smartphones. "There are many different devices with different user interfaces, such as HTC Sense, Moto Blur, and the Samsung TouchWiz," says Hazelton. "These UIs are more like application layers on the phones, so Android is also fragmented at the UI level." This further fragmentation is another reason that it would be difficult for enterprises to standardize on the Android platform. However, Hazelton believes that an enterprise could possibly standardize on one particular Android device, running one version of the OS, with one standard UI.
Securing and managing devices
The initial versions of the Android OS were severely lacking in enterprise-readiness when it came to mobile device management and security.
"The device manufacturers stepped in to start pushing Android towards the enterprise," says Hazelton. This push resulted in the changes that came in the most recent version, Android 2.2, which was released to open source on June 23 and initially rolled out to Nexus One smartphones. It started rolling out to HTC Evo 4G smartphones the first week of August and should be rolled out to Droid X and other smartphones by the end of the month.
The new features in Android 2.2 include support for Exchange ActiveSync and the ability for data backup and restoration. In addition, it gives IT departments more control over devices with the addition of numeric PIN or alphanumeric password options to unlock devices, giving Exchange administrators the ability to enforce password policies across all of the enterprise's Android devices. Remote wipe is another added security feature. Exchange administrators can remotely reset devices to factory defaults to secure data in case the devices are lost or stolen. Even with these improvements, Android 2.2 still remains incompatible with many enterprises' Exchange security policies. The features now in place are the bare minimum of what is recommended for a device to be connected to a secure corporate network.
"From a mobile device management and security perspective, the Android platform alone is not yet at a stage where most companies perceive it as enterprise-ready," explains Stacy Crook, Senior Research Analyst of Mobile Enterprise at IDC. "With the latest release, Google did add a number of enterprise features, so this shows progress. However, Google has not been very forthcoming with its mobile enterprise strategy, so while IT will appreciate any ability that they are given to better manage these devices, they may not feel 100% comfortable that they are responsible for managing them."
Software companies are stepping in to cover this gap in security in the Android platform. "There are tools that can protect data," explains Hazelton. "There are services that corporations can use to manage and monitor devices that are entering their companies and can alert IT when a new Android device connects to the Exchange server." This will enable IT administrators to approve which devices they allow to connect to their network.
Making applications safe
The open source nature of Android is great for app developers, but it's not good for enterprises when it comes to security. Users give apps access to all kinds of data without thinking twice about it. If a user downloads a virus to a device that is used for business as well, that can potentially compromise all the data on the device as well as on the corporate network to which it connects.
"There is no scrutiny of the apps in the Android Market," explains Hazelton. He compares the Android Market to the iPhone App store: while there is no guarantee of security, apps are vetted through the App Store before users can download them. This extra layer of scrutiny gives enterprises more confidence in the safety of iPhones in their enterprises and on their networks.
"The good news is that mobile device management and security companies are very aware of the growing trend of the acceptance of individual-liable devices in the enterprise and are providing solutions that can supplement the manageability and security of these devices today," explains Crook. "Since standalone mobile device management and security is just basic with Android, third-party providers of this software can help augment Android-based devices and assist in making them enterprise-ready."
Companies such as MobileIron have developed technologies for enterprise companies to manage their smartphones across multiple operating systems including iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm, and Windows. These solutions let companies manage data, privacy, and security of their smartphones.
But Hazelton thinks that more should be done regarding app security at the developer level. "It is critical that someone step in the app development process and certify that there are certain channels to get trusted enterprise apps," he explains. "This will only get more complicated as the trend moves towards freedom for apps and the ability to get them from websites and other markets," besides just the Android Market.
Looking to the future
So Android isn't quite enterprise-ready in its current state, but is there hope for it in the future? "There are many hurdles for Google to overcome," says Hazelton. "They need to work in an enterprise environment, because a lot of people are purchasing Android devices to use for both play and work."
Crook and other IDC analysts agree, and think Android is well on its way already. "From a perspective of enterprise application support and device management/security, we think Android today is further along than iPhone was three years ago went it first launched," Crook says.
Indeed, many enterprise software vendors are already developing their applications for Android alongside those for BlackBerry and iPhone. "Independent software vendors have earnestly begun to support Android, and in fact, Android [devices] tend to be some of the first devices supported with new mobile enterprise applications being rolled out," says Crook.