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Android Fragmentation: What It Means For You, Dear IT Manager

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

7 Comments

  1. Posted May 24, 2010 at 11:35 | Permalink

    Excellent article. Agree completely, that Google has to do more and detail how they plan to avoid fragmentation in future OS releases, for I/T departments to really know how to support this growing platform. I also think this provides an excellent opportunity for 3rd party development companies to develop strong I/T frameworks and tools that I/T departments can deploy to manage employee owned / liable devices within the enterprise. Otherwise, this OS can go the Windows Mobile way!

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  2. Posted May 24, 2010 at 21:54 | Permalink

    Thankfully we disabled ActiveSync. So the only means to connect with all these consumer devices is web based email.

    Considering there is zero budget for a middleware solution deployment this is a non issue for us. Either you use a Blackberry or you stick with web based email.

    With all the pending and already established data privacy regulations (MA, NV etc) why would you even risk your corporate data on a device without even basic (as in 4 years ago) mobile security?

    Enterprise support is an afterthought for Google, Apple and they are an afterthought to us. Equal what RIM provides – the bar is there and using Exchange alone is sadly not going to cut it. You have no actually management of devices, and very limited reporting / audit capabilities.

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    • Posted May 26, 2010 at 16:06 | Permalink

      Actually, technically, if you block ActiveSync, doesn’t that also block OWA? That would be a major drag. My sense is though that enterprise support is less and less an afterthought for Apple…we’ll have to see what happens with iPhone OS 4.0

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      • Posted May 26, 2010 at 20:40 | Permalink

        Depends on how you deploy OWA. We use seperate certs (OWA/OMA) It’s not that hard to do and with ISA even easier to shut off the ActiveSync connector.

        We will see, I’m thinking only API that middleware can tap into. What more can they provide? They use ActiveSync via Exchange so unless they launch their own solution I don’t see what else they can do.

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  3. Posted May 26, 2010 at 13:01 | Permalink

    With the competition in the device category, IT will be bending to market influences and fads as never before. The open enterprise reacting to the latest gadget could stretch the already stressed IT group even further.

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  4. Posted June 2, 2010 at 13:55 | Permalink

    Google isn’t focused on the Enterprise adoption of Android just yet. At this point that piece of the market is “a nice to have.” Consumers = Ad Revenue (and the majority of subscribers), that’s where Google’s resources are focused and that’s what they know!

    On another note…in regards to IT being stressed because of the influx of new mobile devices, new mobile OS’s and new mobile trends. I agree, a VERY sad state of affairs. Executive management needs to step to the plate and start collaborating with IT, empower them, don’t fight them. And please stop rubber necking at every new mobile bell and whistle that’s available because you saw a commercial or read it in the Wall Street Journal. Work in reverse (which should be forward), THIS IS BUSINESS. 1) What problem are you’re trying to solve 2) What’s the best solution to solve it 3) Deploy the solution and mandate it 4) NO is a perfectly acceptable word

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