Google faces big challenges as it targets mobile workforce with Android for Work

On Wednesday, February 25, Google launched its new Android for Work initiative. Here's what it means for Google in the enterprise.

Image: Google

Over the past year or so, Google has been tirelessly working to establish itself as a trusted partner of the enterprise by promoting programs around business and education adoption of Chromebooks and Google Services. Now, it's finally fulfilling its promise to do the same for Android.

On Wednesday, February 25, 2015, Google officially announced the launch of its Android for Work program via a blog post by Rajen Sheth, the director of product management for Android and Chrome for Work.

The program was initially announced back in the summer of last year at the keynote address of the 2014 I/O developer conference. It focuses mainly on increasing security and identity management, which have been major roadblocks for enterprise Android deployments.

According to results of a study released the same day by enterprise mobility management (EMM) company SOTI, an Android for Work partner, more than 67% of businesses around the world consider Android devices "integral to their daily operations." Of the 460 respondents, 36% listed security as their main concern, while 32% respondents listed "separation of personal and work content" as the biggest issue.

The Android for Work program is made up of four key components to help ease these fears in an enterprise deployment of devices that run Google's open source OS.

1. Work profiles: Using some of the default security features and multi-user support in Android 5.0 Lollipop, users can create a separate profile for work that separates and secures sensitive company data.

"IT can deploy approved work apps right alongside their users' personal apps knowing their sensitive data remains secured," the blog post stated. "People can use their personal apps knowing their employer only manages work data and won't erase or view their personal content."

2. Android for Work app: This feature is for Android users who aren't running Lollipop, which is the decided majority at this point, or who have devices that won't natively run a separate work profile. According to the blog post, the app can be managed by an IT administrator and "delivers secure mail, calendar, contacts, documents, browsing and access to approved work apps."

3. Google Play for Work: This feature allows businesses to deploy secure apps to all Android for Work users, and manages those apps as well.

4. Built-in productivity tools: These tools comprise a business app suite including email, contacts, and calendar. The apps provide users with document-editing capabilities, supporting both Notes and Exchange.

According to Forrester analyst Tyler Shields, the addition of advanced security features will have a big impact.

"By putting mobile application wrapping and containerization into the operating system, security for mobile apps becomes easier and can be done at scale," Shields said. "They didn't modify the user experience in a negative way, which will make these operating system modification palatable to the end user. Without perfect end user experience, security and management modifications are doomed to fail."

Google launched Android for Work with a long list of partners, including SAP, BlackBerry, Citrix, Cisco, Adobe, Box, Samsung, Dell, HP, and others.

The full list of Android for Work partners.
Image: Google

While the program has been in the works for quite some time, Google still has many challenges to face in driving adoption of the program. The first of these challenges is that Google still has yet to shake its "for the people" identity as a consumer brand.

According to Boris Metodiev, an analyst at 451 Research, Google is much more focused on consumer and cloud, and its name isn't associated with proper enterprise solutions.

"Lots of enterprises, especially government organizations, believe that the Android operating system is not secure enough, so that's why they avoid having Androids in the first place. They tend to go with iOS, with Windows, or with Blackberry even," Metodiev said.

Yes, Android for work can potentially solve the security issue, but Google still has a long way to go before it gets anywhere close to breaking the hold that iOS has over enterprise market share.

According to the latest Mobility Index Reportcovering Q4 2014 from Good Technology, Apple has strengthened its market share in term of activations, commanding 73% of activations. Android, by contrast, only has 25% market share of activations.

If Google is able to solve this security issue and gain the trust of the enterprise through the Android for Work program, there still exists a major hurdle in adoption rates of the latest OS version — Android 5.0 Lollipop. At the time of publication, Android developer data shows that Lollipop is running on only 1.6% of Android devices.

Shields however, believes that Lollipop adoption will improve with Android for Work. He also noted the commonality of businesses and organizations mandating a "minimum supported operating system level for Android devices." For example, an enterprise could start support with KitKat and only support Android devices running the KitKat OS or later.

"In the short term, that level will likely fall at the level where the addon version of Android for Work can be utilized," Shields said. "In the long term, the minimum will increase to the highest level of AFW support by mandating Lollipop support. I believe that these additions will drive adoption of Lollipop and not the other way around."

The path ahead for Android in the office is tricky. While it isn't the final solution for Google's mobile ecosystem, this new program could be a step in the right direction for Google as an enterprise partner.

If successful, Android for Work has tremendous potential to solve some of the major issues with enterprise Android deployments and better position Google as a company that works well both outside and inside the workplace.

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Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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