Almost a year after tipping its hand at Google I/O 2014, Google announced Android for Work, a way to lock down sensitive business data on personal Android phones owned by employees—using versions of Android either old or new.
Google said it would deploy Android for Work in not one but two ways: as a native work profile that can be enabled within the latest Android 5.0 (Lollipop) devices, as well as a separate app for devices runninng Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) through Android 4.4 (KitKat).
Google also said that it had crafted a special business apps store, known as Google Play for Work, and brought its Docs, Sheets, and Slides business apps into the walled-off Android Work partition, plus versions of its browser, contacts and calendar apps. All of the information stored in Android for Work will be encrypted.
Why this matters: Locking down sensitive company data is a nightmare for corporate IT providers—and for employees, too, who have to worry what will happen if they unexpectedly leave the company. While KNOX isn’t a bad implementation, it’s specific to Samsung products. Something that works for all Android devices is a better solution, and on the face of it, this looks pretty good.
Balancing work and life, in a phone
Android for Work is Google’s realization that the days when companies handed out dedicated business machines are over. Instead, users are bringing their own devices into the workplace, with the expectation that they’ll be able to access sensitive company data upon them. In return, those companies are requiring employees to lock down those devices, to protect corporate information. Several solutions already do this in the Android world, including TouchDown HD and Samsung’s own KNOX technology, added to several of its phones beginning in 2013.
KNOX, TouchDown and now Android for Work wall off the data in a secured data lockbox within the device. Admins can remotely wipe just the business data if an employee leaves the company or the phone is lost, preserving the employee’s personal content, such as their own contacts and photos.
Google said that Android for Work will be managed with standard APIs, using a single enterprise mobility management (EMM) console like Google’s own Apps for Work, or via others like BlackBerry, Citrix, or VMware
A Google spokeswoman said that the new Android for Work will not need specific device support, and named Dell, HP, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony as just some of the vendors supporting the new technology.
“We’ve designed the Android for Work program to work with any Android device,” she said in an email. “There is technology for this that is baked into Lollipop, and for older devices, we have the Android for Work app that brings the technology to those devices.”
Google originally announced Android for work last year at Google I/O, when Sundar Pichai, then in charge of Android, Chrome, and Google Apps, showed off the new functionality. Pichai said then that Samsung had partnered with Google to develop the new Android technology, which Google confirmed Wednesday.
“Regarding Samsung, they are one of our strongest partners in Android for Work,” the Google spokeswoman said. “Knox is a great set of technologies that builds above and beyond the Android for Work technologies.”
As PCWorld's senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.