Android's enterprise features put it on par with iPhone, not BlackBerry

As smartphones become increasingly enterprise friendly

Google's Android platform, like the Apple iPhone before it, has been a hit with consumers but has only been recently gotten serious about adding enterprise features.

The official launch this week of the Android 2.2 (a.k.a., "Froyo") platform has been Google's most significant step toward making Android enterprise-friendly yet, however.

The big news here is that Google has added several features that will give IT departments much more control over Android-based devices than they have in the past. Android 2.2 will give administrators the ability to enforce password policies across Android devices and to remotely wipe any Android devices that become lost or compromised. Android 2.2 will also support Exchange Calendars and auto-discovery to make it easier for users to set up and sync Exchange accounts.

How Android hit the big time in the smartphone OS market

This is all obviously welcome news for enterprise users who want to bring their Android devices to work with them.

However, they shouldn't expect to have full access to all corporate applications, as Google's open source mobile platform will likely never match up with the security prowess of Research in Motion's BlackBerry devices. Or as Michael Morgan of ABI Research puts it, the only way Google will ever catch up with RIM is if it runs all Android applications through its own network operations center.

"No one has as good security as RIM does," he says. "But even so, Froyo will mark the point where Android has grown up and has given users some enterprise functionality. Now Google won't have to keep giving us a new iteration of Android every three or four months and they can give IT departments and handset operators a chance to catch their breath and catch up."

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney agrees that Android is not yet where RIM is as far as corporate security goes, but he argues that for limited access to applications such as corporate e-mail, the new version of Android will certainly get the job done. So far Gartner has given Android-based devices a thumbs-up for limited use of corporate e-mail, personal information management, Internet browsing and telephony.

"The ways these products get into the enterprise is by appealing to consumers," he says. "Consumers bring them in, the enterprises ask for management tools and then the platforms respond. Neither Apple nor Google need to be where RIM is."

One potential challenge for IT departments dealing with Android phones is the fact that the Android application market does not filter out applications posted for sale and instead relies upon user feedback to determine when it should bar an application from being sold in the store. This means that there are significant dangers for users who don't carefully watch what permissions they grant applications they download onto their devices, as a recent study  by security vendor SMobile found that around 20% of all applications available on the store could compromise sensitive corporate information.

Despite this, ABI's Morgan thinks that Android's method of crowdsourcing application monitoring does offer advantages that RIM's more closed approach to application selling. In particular he thinks that the sheer volume of applications available makes the Android approach to applications worth the security risks that users face when they go shopping for apps provided they exercise caution over what they put on their devices.

"When you crowdsource ratings for applications, it's a lot like the difference between Wikipedia and a traditional encyclopedia," he says. "So a typical encyclopedia might have fewer errors than Wikipedia but at the same time it will only cover a fifth of the topics that Wikipedia covers."

Google's own Nexus One device, available on T-Mobile, was the first device to get Android 2.2 pushed out to it this week. In addition to its new enterprise features the new platform also allows for tethering of up to eight different devices at once.

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