Android for business: enterprise focus or not?


the enterprise market has always been RIM’s focus with BlackBerry but
for consumer-focused Apple it’s been a low priority while Google has
been working hard to make Android a jack-of-all-trades but has yet
to articulate a clear enterprise focus.

Indeed it is only with
the release of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) and the recent-ish 2.2 (Froyo) that
the operating system has gotten business-class asset and data management
features like remote data wiping data encryption remote password
reset and device tracking.

While these features might convince some IT managers that Android is up to par with iOS in the enterprise space there are still many question marks around its enterprise credentials. The free-for-all Android Market for example is likely to pose too significant a security risk for many companies’ comfort; as if confirming this RIM will reportedly be vetting every Android application it allows PlayBook users to load and run using that device’s Android runtime support. This suggests that Apple’s model however questionable and onerous is more appropriate for enterprise-class devices.

“It’s possible Android will be a little more appealing to enterprises just because of their openness and the fact that it will be easier for enterprises to install their own apps on Android devices” says Mark Novosel telecommunications analyst with IDC.

Honeycomb-based tablets offer enticing new user interface
possibilities but enterprise customers are interested in a lot more than good

on the other hand there could be more security issues as Google
doesn’t verify all the apps to the same extent that Apple does. This
could be managed if companies have appropriate policies in terms of what
staff can download to tablets.”

But administering those policies
is difficult: spot audits are impractical and third-party device
management tools are only now integrating support for iPhones and iPads
with existing platforms designed years ago to let businesses remotely
configure and upgrade desktop and notebooks PCs. Comparable Android
support is certainly in the works somewhere but there’s going to be an
inherent lag between when it’s offered and when businesses feel
comfortable with the level of control they’re offered.

That said
Android’s openness does offer keen developers a unique opportunity to
differentiate their offerings with innovative targeted products.
Openness made it a natural target for OzDroid’s Geoff Bruckner who is
developing an application for couriers and logistics operators that’s
based on Android.

Bruckner was a longtime developer for Windows
Mobile which has owned the business mobility space for most of the past
decade but “didn’t like the direction it was taking” he explains. “I
wanted a situation where I could use a ruggedised device and it if gets
smashed the driver could start using a regular consumer phone too. But
there’s no compatibility between Windows Phone 7 and handheld or
embedded versions. I took a punt that Android was going to be successful
and that I’d be able to leverage off other consumer devices tablets
phones and so on in the future if need be.”

Bruckner has spent
the last 18 months designing and developing his as-yet-unnamed
application which is running on a version of Android 2.1 ported to
Korean company Bluebird’s Pidion BIP-6000 rugged handheld computer by US
firm SDG Systems. The BIP-6000 which was designed for Windows Mobile
6.1 offers military-spec rugged design that makes it perfect for
Bruckner’s intended business audience – combining a hard-wearing mobile
platform with the openness and broad support of Android. Barcode
scanners for example can be added to the device as keyboard wedges
entering characters from scanned barcode as though they’ve been typed.

it’s still early days Bruckner says he’s already fielded enquiries
from businesses interested in his work and on having him develop
business apps for their own use. “There are enterprises and small
businesses looking to get connected with Android users” he says.
“They’re having the same issues I was looking at since you don’t have
industrial options in iOS. What’s really driving the mobile market at
the moment is the success of Android.”