Android 5 Jelly Bean: I Say Innovation, You Say Fragmentation...
A new version of Google's Android mobile OS is expected to be unveiled at the Google I/O conference in late June. Will that leave developers or enterprises wanting to call the whole thing off?
Ah, June. The beginning of summer, when the kids are finally released from school, and Gadgets are finally released from the Purgatory between Digitimes Taiwan rumor and Midwestern Best Buy store shelf.
For consumers, Jelly Bean should indeed be sweet. Rumors say goodies include a Siri-like voice assistant, Google's suddenly market-leading Chrome Web browser, better touch keyboard, more integration with Google services and more tablet-specific features.
For enterprises, rumored features they would care about include the ability to run on laptops (and possibly even dual-boot with Microsoft Windows), a file system, increased protection from malware, including the dumping of Adobe's already-dying mobile Flash player.
The other good news for enterprises is that Jelly Bean heralds a new era wherein Google will only release one major Android update per year.
How sweet will Android Jelly Bean be for enterprises?
Google started off frenetically, taking the 'ship early, ship often' mantra literally. In 2009, Google released three updates to Android (Cupcake, Donut and Eclair). After complaints, it slowed the pace to bi-annual updates in the last two years.
The problem is that Google's hardware partners still haven't caught up. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is only running on about 5% of devices today. Almost two-thirds of devices are still running Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Even Android 2.1 Eclair, released 2.5 years ago, has more users than ICS.
The Samsungs and HTCs of this world remain slow about releasing their newest hardware with the latest Android update installed (though the vendors would retort that Google's processes are to blame). They are also excruciatingly slow about making Android updates available to devices already out in the field (if at all).
By going to one update a year, providing better previews to key hardware and software partners, and clamping down on roadmap rumors, Cupertino-style, Google can go a long way towards turning a negative (fragmentation) into a positive (sustained, regular innovation).
I am also hoping that the lack of leaks about hard-core enterprise features in Jelly Bean are only because these kinds of features aren't sexy enough for the Rumor Mill.
Broadly speaking, Android remains the least secure and manageable of the major mobile platforms, partly because it lacks those features itself, but mostly because it doesn't allow third-party developers to easily implement them.
If Google opens up a significant number of Android APIs related to securing and managing devices, this would improve its reputation immensely, and overnight turn it into a true enterprise and BYOD contender versus iOS.
In the meantime, enterprises wanting to deploy Android should turn to devices like the Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets. Samsung has done special engineering work to enable certain Mobile Device Management (MDM) software like SAP Afaria to have more control and security features. As a result, SAP has approved Galaxy devices for employee use, and now has more than 1,000 workers using them.