With Motorola's Help, Google May Introduce Android to the Office

With the closing of Google's $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility this week, talk of the possibilities for Android in the enterprise has spiked.

While Android has taken the consumer market by storm -- the OS runs 59 percent of smartphones shipped in the first quarter of 2012 -- IT managers remain wary that maintaining security and control of consumer Android devices devices used by workers may be difficult if not impossible, according to various surveys.

IT managers say they can't get the Mobile Device Management (MDM) tools they need to control Android devices brought into the workplace by employees, analysts have said.

Gartner recently reported that it has found adoption of Android tablets and smartphones in large business has so far been "severely limited" because of the complexities of managing devices from multiple vendors running different versions of Android.

A Gartner survey in April found that only 9 percent of enterprises have made or plan to make Android their primary mobile platform in the next year. That compares to 58 percent of enterprises that use or plan to use Apple's iOS and 20 percent who favor Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS.

Some analysts say they are hopeful that Motorola's 2011 purchase of MDM software maker 3LM will improve IT's ability to manage and secure Android, perhaps in time for the release of the coming Jelly Bean and/or Android 5.0 versions.

Analysts say 3LM is not true MDM, but that its software includes a layer of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that could make Android work better with third-party MDM software, analysts said.

Though Google is expected to use 3LM to improve Android manageability, the company wouldn't comment on its plans for the software. Many analysts expect to gain insight into Google's plans at its Google I/O conference in late June.

Today, IT shops rely mostly on Exchange ActiveSync to manage Android devices used by workers for job tasks. However, analysts have said that ActiveSync lacks the sophistication required by IT shops.

"ActiveSync is a really low-end solution for MDM," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"Now that Google owns Moto (Motorola Mobility), I expect the Moto folks to start feeding back into base Android some of the technology they have developed. This is the primary reason that Google bought Moto, in my opinion," Gold added.

Gold predicted that the addition of Motorola Mobility will provide Android with "much more capable management interfaces and APIs." While that won't help current and past Android versions, it will mean enhanced security at enterprise standards for future Android versions, he added.

"None of this helps the Android enterprise users in the short term, unless they decide to work with MDM from Enterproid and others like Good that have a 'two-persona' capability on a device," Gold said. He explained that "two-persona" refers to the ability to partition data on a smartphone or tablets so that a user's personal photos and music won't be destroyed if an IT shops wipes off sensitive corporate data from a mobile device.

For now, IT shops still need to specify makes and models for users to buy if they want to use them on the corporate network, Gold said.

"For the short term, only enterprise level adaptations of Android are safe enough for corporate use, in my opinion," Gold said. "Longer term, in one to two years, this won't be an issue."

Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner, was less sure that Android will become a mainstay of corporations, though IT concerns will be eased if Google decides to add MDM APIs or incorporate 3LM software broadly, he said.

"Still, the many versions of Android is an inhibitor," Redman warned.

Google is expected to begin direct sales of Nexus smartphones and tablets through a new process that provides multiple manufacturers -- not just Motorola -- with early access to future Android versions.

Google would sell the Nexus devices directly to consumers, partly to avoid restrictions or add-ons from carriers.

It is conceivable that Motorola, which will be operated as a separate unit within Google, could become the originator of Nexus devices so that Google could dictate the standard for other vendors to follow, said Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst.

The new Google unit's CEO, Dennis Woodside, has not publicly discussed Nexus or plans for 3LM, but did say in a statement after the deal closed that: "Our aim is simple: to focus Motorola Mobility's remarkable talent on fewer, bigger bets, and create wonderful devices that are used by people around the world."

Gold said the Nexus concept makes sense for Google, whether it's done through Motorola or not.

"Google needs to limit the fragmentation in Android that is causing the market a lot of heartburn, and even more so in the enterprise space," he said.

The Motorola acquisition means Google can use Motorola's "expertise to move into the enterprise market so as to take advantage of [the] 'Bring Your Own Device [movement]," Milanesi said.

Samsung, the biggest maker of Android devices, is already trying to sell both tablets and smartphones for workplaces, while Lenovo is doing the same with tablets, she said.

Moving Android into the enterprise is "certainly key for Google, considering the growing trend of BYOD and the decreasing number of people that carry separate devices for work and play," Milanesi added.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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