Droid Pro tests Android's enterprise chops

Although businesses have been spending more money on Android-based phones recently, they'll have their first opportunity on Tuesday to order an Android phone tailored specifically to enterprise users.

Although businesses have been spending more money on Android-based phones recently, they'll have their first opportunity on Tuesday to order an Android phone tailored specifically to enterprise users.

The Motorola Droid Pro, now available for order on Verizon's Web site, should be an interesting test case for whether Android phones can hit the big-time in the enterprise market. While most popular Android phones, such as the Droid, the Droid X and the Evo 4G, have been targeted toward the consumer market, Motorola is betting that corporate users will be clamoring for an Android-based alternative to Research in Motion's BlackBerry devices.

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To some extent, the Droid Pro apes the design that has made BlackBerry devices popular in the enterprise. The device sacrifices a larger display screen for a full QWERTY keyboard akin to past RIM hits such as the BlackBerry Curve or the BlackBerry Bold. Additionally, the device features a 3.1-inch touchscreen with a 320x480-pixel resolution that nearly matches the 3.2-inch, 480x360-pixel touchscreen on the recently release BlackBerry Torch.

And while the Droid Pro isn't going to match RIM's extensive set of security features, it does have a lot going for it on the enterprise security side, as its operating system packs the most enterprise features of any Android platform to date.

Among other things the Android 2.2 platform (a.k.a., "Froyo") has added the ability to enforce password policies across Android devices, to remotely wipe any Android devices that become lost or compromised, and to support Exchange Calendars and auto-discovery to make it easier for users to set up and sync Exchange accounts.

The Droid Pro also comes with several other features that are sure to appeal to enterprise users including the Quickoffice program that gives users access to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel files; AuthenTec's VPN client to allow for secure access to corporate networks; and the ever-popular Skype mobile application that can be used to make inexpensive long-distance calls.

So with all these similarities between the Droid Pro and various BlackBerry devices, what's the big differentiator? The answer may well be the sheer number of applications that Android supports. While RIM has so far been highly selective in which applications it allows on its BlackBerry App World, Google's Android Market is basically an anything-goes operation that allows any and all apps to be posted for sale. The only way an application gets removed from the store is if users flag it as dangerous for containing malware or for being inappropriate.

While this does pose some significant dangers for enterprise users who aren't careful about what applications they add to their phones, it also means that corporate users will have a lot more choices in what they decide to put on their smartphones. The most recent survey data from research firm ChangeWave indicates that applications have become a major part of what users look for when buying a smartphone, as 14 per cent of users surveyed said that applications were what they liked best about new smartphones, followed by ease of use (12 per cent) and Internet access (12 per cent). Corporate email access, which has long been RIM's bread-and-butter application, was considered the most important feature by 10 per cent of users, the survey showed.

"Applications have absolutely become an important part of what people look for in smartphones," says Paul Carton, the vice president of research at ChangeWave. "If you look at what people like best about their Android phones, the number of applications available has typically been one of the top three answers."

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