Should enterprises place their bets on Android for Work?

With Android for Work, Google gets into the BYOD business. Also in Searchlight: FCC votes yes on Net neutrality; sex bias lawsuit on VC firm Kleiner Perkins shakes up Silicon Valley.

Google made its bid for the enterprise BYOD market official this week, launching a set of technologies for the Android operating system that will allow employees to run their personal and corporate apps on one device. The program, called Android for Work, takes on Microsoft, Apple and other major players in the workplace, but should CIOs take the bait?

"Google is getting much more serious about Android at Work," said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, a fan of the initiative, which was first announced at the I/O Developer Conference last June.

Just how serious? Dulaney said Google's breakthrough achievement here is that it has come up with a way for users to create separate business and personal accounts they can log in to on their devices, with the data in each environment protected from the other, via a multi-account structure called Work Profiles. According to Dulaney, this system has a couple of advantages over the container approach Apple uses.

First, Android at Work is able to separate personal and business data architecturally because it uses two accounts (what Google refers to as Profiles). Contrast that with Apple's form of containerization, which separates business apps from personal ones, but within a single account.

"If I'm on Apple today, and I have the need to read a PDF file both on the business side and the personal side, I have to buy one PDF reader for my business purposes, put it in my container, then another PDF reader for my personal side," explained Dulaney. Basically, companies have to install two different applications to handle the same file type because when a user reads a file (such as a PDF file downloaded from an email), there's a risk that it could copy over to the personal app's area and remain there, which is a security risk, particularly if the employee leaves the company, said Dulaney. But Android for Work works differently. 

"With Google, you can have a single installation of an application and it can be used within both accounts. But there will be distinctly separate data files," Dulaney explained. Essentially, the account serves as the container, he said. "With Android 5.0, there is no way for those files to move out of the account even when they are using the same application binary as the personal side."

Single pane of glass

Another advantage of Android for Work, according to Dulaney, is that while the architecture would seem to require having to log on and log off to access each account -- which is how Windows on a PC works -- Google has come up with a way to address this issue. With what's called a launcher, Google can blend the business and personal environments into "one pane of glass," said Dulaney, so you're seeing both sets of apps together on the same screen. "One app can appear twice on your screen: once as a personal app and once with a little badge on it that means it's a business app," he explained.

The combination gives Google an edge over Apple and Microsoft, according to Dulaney, in terms of truly separating business and personal data yet still allowing the user to access those sets of data conveniently. "I have a very strong architectural separation. I don't have to have multiple copies of an application, and visually I've made it easier for the user because they can see one pane of glass that contains everything, regardless of business or personal," he said.

Android for Work has also made it easier to deploy apps to user devices, Dulaney said. Typically, IT administrators have to obtain a purchase token from their mobile device management (MDM) provider, which is sent to the user's device, which in turn allows the user to buy the app with that token and download it onto the device. With Android for Work, the MDM provider can go directly to the store and push the app directly to the device and user, eliminating two steps from the process.

Finally, the Android for Work initiative addresses a common complaint against consumer-turned-enterprise vendors like Google and Apple -- their unwillingness to communicate with corporate users -- by forming a community group, Google for Work, dedicated to helping businesses use the technology.

So is there anything wrong with Android for Work? Dulaney admits there are still lingering concerns, notably the fragmentation of the Android OS that has plagued it for years and Google's failure to curate applications before they're placed into the app store. "They wait until something bad happens and then take it out. Enterprises just don't want to be the first one to download a bad app."

Despite these issues, he urges enterprises to keep a close eye on Android 5.0. By layering the Android OS with Play Services to combat fragmentation, making it easier for IT to deploy apps, and creating a dedicated business group, the 800-pound gorilla up in Mountain View has broken new ground.

"Apple certainly doesn't have this. … Microsoft has the architecture but they never blended together the two accounts into one pane of glass. Windows Phone doesn't have this architecture. Regular Windows on a PC does, but they haven't blended it together in this way," he said.

You go, Google?

CIO news roundup for week of Feb. 23

In other technology news this week:

  • In a long-awaited decision, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday approved FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for Net neutrality in a 3-2 vote. Under the policy, the Internet will now be treated as a public utility and service providers will be prohibited from charging customers for faster delivery speeds, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
  • Shake-up in the VC industry: Reddit CEO Ellen Pao is taking her former employer, venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, to task in a $16 million lawsuit accusing the latter of gender discrimination. Kleiner is denying the charges. If Pao wins the suit, which heads to trial this week, it could spur reform in an industry that continues to be dominated by men.
  • LinkedIn this week compensated 800,000 users who paid for LinkedIn Premium in a class-action lawsuit. In 2012, a file containing 6.5 LinkedIn users' passwords, which were weakly encrypted, were posted on a Russian hacker site, allowing hackers to decode them easily. The incident led those Premium users to sue the social networking site for falsely assuring that it was employing strong security to protect their data.
  • Stressed out or need a pick me up? Boston startup Thync might have just the solution for you (hint: it isn't yoga or coffee). Their gadget, a wireless wearable electrode that emits a small dose of electric current to your brain, comes in two settings: Calm to chill you out, and Energize to give you a boost.

Check out our previous Searchlight roundups on how an Apple car can drive the IoT conversation and Box's enterprise key management.

Next Steps

Get more coverage of Android for Work on sister site SearchConsumerization. Then, get CIO expert Harvey Koeppel's take on how enterprise mobility management and MDM can help CIOs get a handle on mobile chaos.

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