Google just announced Android For Work, which aims to make managing diverse Android devices easier and eliminate the headaches associated with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approaches. But does it offer any real benefits you couldn't already get with an mobile device management (MDM) platform? Lifehacker investigates.
Google outlined its goals for Android For Work in a blog post. It includes the ability to support work profiles, meaning you can have personal and work data on your phone and keep them segregated. The work data is managed (and hence could be wiped remotely); the personal data is yours and won't be touched. There's also a workplace version of Google Play, which allows enterprises to set up their own app store of approved apps. (Seasoned observers will point out that Windows Phone already natively offers a similar feature.)
Does this mean you can start managing a diverse enterprise Android fleet straight away? Probably not. None of the advanced options will work unless the devices in question are running Android Lollipop 5.0 (or its successor versions). Older devices can install a standalone Android For Work app, which provides access to the standard Google Apps services (email, documents and calendar) separate to the native Android apps for those services while providing a degree of management control.
The key point — and one which isn't particularly well-explained in Google's announcement post — is that Android For Work already requires you to have invested in an enterprise mobility management (EMM) platform — it doesn't provide one in and of itself. (The terms EMM and MDM are often used interchangeably; Google has tended to favour EMM in its announcements.)
The official Android For Work site makes the point more clearly: "Android for Work must be enabled and administered through an enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution. Choose an EMM provider to manage all of your mobile devices, apps and business data from a single console." At launch, eight providers are supported: VMware's Airwatch, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, Citrix, Google's own Apps For Work management platform, MaaS360 from IBM, MobileIron, SAP and SOTI. Realistically, you won't just be supporting Android devices, so having a separate platform makes sense.
One obvious absentee from the supported list is Good Technology, which is one of the (relatively) dominant providers in a fragmented local market. Research from Telsyte last year identified Good as one of the main players in the Australian MDM space, though with just 24 per cent of enterprises using any kind of solution, there's no clear winner. Samsung's Knox management platform isn't being offered at launch either.
Another gap in the list is Microsoft, which is adopting an approach of offering MDM through managed versions of its key Office apps. (The Android for Work App offered by Google for pre-Lollipop devices essentially mimics that approach.) Intel, for its part, thinks Android security is best handled at processor level, which means that management code is already present regardless of what software is running on the device.
As those exceptions make clear, Android hardly needs Android For Work to have MDM options. Indeed, because the code base for Android is public and the permissions which can be granted to device management platforms more granular than for its chief rival iOS, it's far easier for management platform vendors to manage existing Android devices than those from Apple, and the options that can be offered that way are usually more useful.
From that perspective, the question becomes: what advantages does Android For Work offer that deploying an existing MDM/EMM solution didn't already offer? To be blunt, beyond already being bundled on the newest devices, it's not immediately clear. But one impact seems likely: it will continue the pressure on MDM vendors to reduce their prices. With Android For Work incorporating features that those platforms might previously have charged for, cheaper MDM options seem likely to proliferate.