What Android needs to rule the world: Manageability

Android is so close...and yet so far away in terms of enterprise-class communications.

It's no secret that Android and the iPhone are already crushing any other thoughts of competition in the consumer space. Windows Phone 7 is a pretty cool mobile OS, but its real strength lies in its integration with enterprise Microsoft ecosystems. And Blackberries? Well, that requires a whole other paragraph.

It's actually the Blackberry that got me thinking about all of this. I had to set up a Blackberry Storm 2 for a friend the other day. She had chosen it when her employer offered her a smartphone and couldn't get an iPhone since the employer used Verizon exclusively. I was a Blackberry user back in the days before iOS and Android exploded and was perfectly happy with my old Curve before I knew any better. The Storm 2 is probably the worst touchscreen smartphone I've ever used. The touch is bizarre and artificial, the UI is a disaster, and basic gestures and usability that Android and iOS users take for granted aren't to be found. And don't even get me started on the applications or the browser.

I know that the Torch is a big step forward for RIM, but even so, once you become accustomed to a modern Android phone or iPhone, there's simply no going back. This is why both operating systems are making so many gains in the enterprise, as users either demand the improved experience and productivity over what Blackberries can offer or simply bring their own phones on the job and expect that they be supported.

As I wrote a while back, I had to begin using a new Blackberry Curve for one of my clients. They're my biggest client, they pay me well, and they let me work 95% remote. So when they refused to integrate my Droid Incredible with their Exchange backend, instead offering me a corporate Blackberry to be in instant contact and manage mail and calendaring, I obviously took it. And although I hate carrying two phones with me and hate the Blackberry experience even more, there was one thing that made me sit up and take notice.

When I received the Blackberry, I called the third-party vendor and, with my SIM card information, activated the phone, joined it to the Exchange server, locked it down, enforced a password policy, encrypted the storage, and shut down any services that didn't relate to me accessing the Exhange mail and calendar or the Internet. It was all automagic. A bit Draconian, but fast and completely effective. I didn't need to do anything to begin accessing their Exchange server. It just worked and I couldn't inadvertently expose their sensitive data with rogue apps or other email accounts.

This summer, when Google rolled out Android 2.2, touting new enterprise features, InformationWeek summed up its position nicely:

he Exchange security features they've added... don't deal with the issue of users installing rogue or unapproved apps which could compromise data and security. Having said that, it's now not that far behind the iPhone in terms of security, but it's quite a way behind the Windows Mobile platform and way behind the BlackBerry platform, which is still the gold standard for enterprise security

Google licensed Microsoft's ActiveSync technology to make Exchange integration easier for Android 2.2 and it works very well for what it does. Yet even third-party software doesn't allow manageability of Android phones in anywhere near the manner with which enterprises can manage Blackberry devices, nor can ActiveSync compete feature for feature with Blackberry Enterprise Server for Exchange.

Android (and iOS, for that matter) has been, first and foremost, a consumer operating system. However, to rule the world, Android needs to be both a consumer and enterprise platform. Adding native management capabilities (I see an acquisition or two in the very near future) would move Android a long ways towards world domination. Especially given that Apple is pushing hard for enterprise acceptance and Windows Phone 7 is here, Google can't afford to ignore the enterprise any longer.

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