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Android clocks in for work

The business world is filled with people using iPhones for work. Even governments are giving iPads to members of their parliament. Now, Google wants a piece of that Apple pie.

Google has entered the game with a modified version of its popular mobile OS, calling it Android for Work. It’s Google’s answer to the quickly emerging world of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) that’s being adopted by many companies.

The idea of splitting your phone into two separate devices has already been done by Good Technology and BlackBerry (in fact, Samsung is working with Good Technology, and BlackBerry’s BES12 is a platform for Android for Work), so the concept isn’t novel. One advantage that Google has over its predecessors, however, is an incredibly high adoption rate for Android, which accounts for one billion users worldwide. Google, and by extension, Android, are both well-known brands that shouldn’t have too much trouble being recognized.

Like riding a bike

Google is banking on its huge user base being familiar with, and more importantly, being comfortable with, an Android OS. Android for Work is compatible with devices running the OS version Lollipop, which began rolling out in late 2014, and there will be an app for devices running previous versions of Android.

The idea is that if an employee uses an Android device themselves, they will be able to easily adjust to an Android work device. An employee that’s familiar with Android will inherently cut down on training costs, which can be significantly large, especially if you implement BYOD on a large scale.

The design for Android for Work is subtle in terms of its integration; work apps are represented like other standard Android apps, except for a small red briefcase symbol in the lower part of the icon. Android for Work will have its own app store called Google Play for Work to showcase the apps available for the OS.

A tale of two apps

Android for work, however, separates the device into two parts, which provides a much more secure environment. Work emails on a BYOD device, for example, are kept completely separate from the employee’s personal emails. Administrators from the company can access the work emails but don’t have any control or access to the employees private inbox. Google explained some of the tech on the official Android blog:

“We’ve built on the default encryption, enhanced SELinux security enforcement and multi-user support in Android 5.0, Lollipop to create a dedicated work profile that isolates and protects work data. IT can deploy approved work apps right alongside their users’ personal apps knowing their sensitive data remains secured.”

First glance

So far, there haven’t been too many reviews of Android for Work. Ars Tecnica’s Ron Amadeo reviewed and spent some time checking out Android for Work’s features, and aside from a painful setup and a complicated process of adding apps, other features worked well. Removing users (e.g., if an employee leaves a company) and using both work apps and personal apps went smoothly. Overall, although it’s still early, he said it was a positive experience: “That makes Android for Work very easy to explain: all of your work data and all of your personal data is kept separate, displayed in a unified interface, and easily un-unified. Everything just works.”

A stealth entry into the market

Since its announcement of Android for Work, Google hasn’t been pushing the modified OS in the media, instead using subtle promotion (almost a soft launch) at Mobile World Congress (MWC) by teaming up with companies like SOTI to work on apps that integrate with Android for Work.

Apple, on its way to becoming the first trillion dollar company, already has brand recognition, notability in the enterprise world. Its reputation for security and unified design (as opposed to the many versions of Android out there) and the tremendous sales of the iPhone 6 give it an edge in terms of popularity and a huge head start. On top of that, Apple has also begun its foray into the market with its iOS Enterprise for iOS 8. It works with many of the same features as Android for Work, including security features and device management. Microsoft looks to be heading into this territory as well.

Whether or not the open-source inclusiveness and mass adoption can stem the tide of Apple enterprise adoption, Android for Work is one of a few a promising steps from Google towards safe and easy-to-use business BYOD software. With an insane adoption rate, a variety of companies doing the Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) heavy lifting, and collaborations with security pioneers such as BlackBerry, Google has a shot at competing with iOS. Although the media presence has been subtle, this author thinks that Google will make a bigger push with Android for Work sometime later this year at a large event such as Google I/O.



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Matt Mullarkey-Toner :Matt is a writer at GetApp covering security, BYOD, and IoT. Prior to GetApp, he spent five years working for various news organizations in the United States and UK, before spending a year writing about mobile applications. His interests include cooking, the NBA, and rattling off trivial factoids.