Android. The Wunderkind mobile operating system from your friends at Google. So pretty, so powerful and so popular that it is now purportedly outselling the iPhone in the United States. Around the world, Google tells us there are approximately 100,000 Android devices being activateddaily. The best part of this story is of course that Google offers this to handset manufacturers for free! That’s right – no licensing costs. There’s no wonder that HTC, Samsung, Dell, SonyEricsson, LG and others have jumped onto the Android bandwagon. And that right there should give us pause, especially for you, dear IT Manager.
Then comes a most interesting interview with the creator of Android, Andy Rubin and commentary from Michael Gartenberg. Mr. Rubin does not believe that Android is getting fragmented. In fact he believes:
“…there are several classical symptoms of platform fragmentation. First, older APIs no longer work and break in new releases. Second, multiple application marketplaces offer different applications that lack uniformity across platforms. Both of these are true when you look at desktop Linux. Neither are true of Android.”
Mr. Gartenberg interprets this commentary as follows:
I’d argue perhaps Android isn’t fragmented, at least according to the classical definition, but that the practical result is the same.
I wholeheartedly agree. I’m not sure even if the “classical” definition of fragmentation is even correct. If you look back to the mid to late 1990s, PC manufacturers were trying to find ways to differentiate themselves by creating customized builds of the Windows (95) operating system. All this did was create confusion and chaos for IT departments (and consumers). That changed only when the PC became so commoditized that PC manufacturers realized the best way to potentially differentiate themselves was by bundling “value-added” software (read: bloatware).
The same issues are occurring with Android – only at an accelerated rate. There is also unfortunately not “one” version of Android, as per Google’s own documentation…and don’t be confused by 1.5 vs. 1.6 – these are very different operating systems….and just recently, Google announced Android 2.2. What’s more, in an effort to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive (read: crowded) market, handset manufacturers are developing very different form factors with screen sizes of varying resolutions. All these variables create problems for IT managers, especially when trying to deploy applications or manage devices.
Furthermore, Exchange support – what is generally considered baseline enterprise mobility readiness – within Android has been rather limited to date. ActiveSync support for IT policies is non existent, and only with v2.2, “Froyo,” is there Calendar support. Unfortunately there are no devices out (yet) that support 2.2 and it remains to be seen how many current devices (if any) can be upgraded (beyond the Nexus One).
So what does this all mean to you, Dear IT Manager?
This was the same challenge that Microsoft faced with its legacy Windows Mobile OS. The platform got so fragmented that applications were no longer guaranteed to work properly from one device to the next. Microsoft has (rightly) put its foot down with Windows Phone 7 and restricted very heavily what handset manufacturers can and cannot do to differentiate themselves in the market. This is what you need to ensure consistent user experiences. This is something that Google has yet to understand.
The fact of the matter is this. Whether you like it or not, your employees are buying Android devices and, unless your company has a very strict policy around what mobile platforms can and cannot be used, you will eventually have to support your staff and their Android devices. To support these devices effectively (and efficiently), I encourage you to consider a couple of things:
- Beware of the email support. Through 2.1 you can not remote wipe the device through Exchange. As such, if your company considers email to be sensitive intellectual property (and it should), consider a third party solution that can provide you enterprise grade email capabilities for your fleet of Android devices.
- Irrespective of whether you leverage a 3rd party email solution, I strongly encourage you to look at solutions to manage your Android devices. There are a wide variety of options out there, each with their strengths and weaknesses, but regardless, they take much of the heavy lifting away for you – and you will thank your lucky stars that you have that tool available to you when you start getting bombarded with Android related trouble tickets.