Android Enterprise: Google’s Catching Up in the Business Environment

Parallel to this year’s Google I/O developer conference at the beginning of May, the Android Enterprise Partner Summit was again held in London. The summit is a Google event for partners and OEMs from the Android business environment. In addition to sharing experiences and workshops, Google always gives an outlook on future developments for the Android ecosystem. And we’ve summarized the most important news and announcements here for you.

Work Profile on Google Pixel

The work profile managed by the enterprise makes Android devices a secure companion for everyday work.

Android Enterprise Recommended: Simpler device selection

The right choice of Android devices for corporate use remains a difficult issue. The fragmentation of the device landscape, which Google always sees as an advantage over its competitor Apple, often drives decision-makers crazy. The following questions often come up when searching for the right Android hardware:

  • Which manufacturers are best suited to my enterprise mobility concept?
  • Which models can I use for my application scenarios?
  • Will I receive critical security updates in time?
  • How many system updates will there be for the individual models and how long can I use the hardware?

Google has often left its partners and their customers alone with many of these questions in the past. To address this problem, Google has launched the Android Enterprise Recommended program. Within this program, Google now lists all devices tested and recommended with Android Enterprise. All certified devices have Android 7 or higher, support a basic selection of apps in the work environment and guarantee prompt security updates and at least one major system update (see requirements overview).

Of course, it’s known that there are also many devices that are not part of the Android Enterprise Recommended program and still work wonderfully. But it must be seen as a reference program for Android devices with these devices supporting the latest features of the Android enterprise platform.

Android Zero-Touch Enrollment: Automatic device setup

The Zero-Touch Enrollment program continues to evolve. Compared to Apple’s DEP program, it now has an equivalent range of features. Zero-Touch Enrollment makes it possible to connect Android devices to an EMM system without end-user or admin interaction and automatically sets up the devices fully in accordance with IT requirements. A number of EMM vendors offer integration with Google’s Zero-Touch portal, which companies can use to manage their devices.

Android Kiosk mode with multiple apps

With Android’s upcoming version 9 (Android P) it will be possible to activate a new kiosk mode on COSU devices (Corporate Owned, Single-Use). This mode allows the user not only to run a pinned app, but also to see a slimmed-down user interface with apps specified by the admin. The user can neither change system settings nor use features that are not offered by the permitted apps.

The kiosk mode includes a multi-user system and allows for example several employees to share one device in a shift-like operation. Different users can also be provided with different apps, for example to map different roles and rights.

Discontinuation of the device admin

With the upcoming version 9, Google will also discontinue legacy files from the Android operating system and remove them in version 10. This includes the device admin, a system account that allows an app with higher privileges to function and be managed on an Android device.

This means that developers need to take action because some important apps in the corporate sector will have to undergo considerable adaptations. Google too also has its own homework to do, as the Gmail app, for example, still uses the device admin.

Android Management API (Beta)

EMM vendors covering the Android platform have had a hard time in the past. In order to be able to enforce the device guidelines defined by the admin, a special app was previously required on the devices. This so-called Device Policy Controller (DPC) was implemented by many EMM manufacturers at a significant amount of effort.

The Device Policy Controller (DPC) is the core of the Android EMM platform and its often the case that a lot of know-how on implementing special features of the individual manufacturers is included. In comparison, the iOS platform has relied exclusively on EMM functions in the operating system since the very beginning, so that the EMM manufacturers never had to introduce a control app.

Google is now making an about-face here and has presented the Android Management API, which has been in beta since last year but is expected to be fully up and running soon. The management API is an API developed and provided by Google that will implement all future features and updates of the Android platform.

In the future, EMM manufacturers could do without their DPCs and manage all devices directly via the Google API. All necessary BYOD and COPE profiles can also be achieved with it.

EMM manufacturers must consider for the future whether they want to manage their customers’ devices via the management API or continue to rely on their DPCs. There are certainly good reasons to switch to the new management API, but just as good reasons to stick to the current DPC architecture. Therefore, Google has not yet discontinued support for the DPCs.

Further innovations

  • Google Play Protect has been further improved
  • Samsung Knox and Android continue to grow together with Knox 3.0 and support a common set of APIs
  • The separation of private and business data in work profile mode is enforced more strictly (especially at ADB level)
  • Improved user interface and guidance for BYOD and COPE profiles
  • Enables OEMs to deliver system updates to their endpoints faster
  • Makes it easier to switch between business and personal apps
  • QR-code-supported enrollment options support initial Wi-Fi configurations during device setup

Summary

Google has made many improvements to its enterprise platform over the past year and presented promising new features for future versions. Feedback from cooperation with OEMs and partners has allowed the platform to mature further and many other small improvements are making Android more and more popular in the business environment.

In 2017 alone, Android devices managed by an EMM have increased tenfold, according to Google. With Android 9 (Android P), Zero-Touch, the Android Management API and a further number of control options through new policies of the upcoming Android versions, Google continues to attack in the business sector. However, it will have to be seen to what extent the investments and course corrections which have been made will bring the desired success.

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