Android's big rush could sack IT: Five preparation tips

Thorniest problem will be supporting Android's many configurations

For years, IT departments struggled with iPhones and now iPads coming into the enterprise-but Android devices will blindside them. Even worse, the fragmented world of Android is coming quickly.

Android's global tablet marketshare grew nearly tenfold in the fourth quarter of 2010, to 22 per cent of shipments, up from 2.3 per cent in the preceding quarter, according to new research released earlier this week from Strategy Analytics.

Android phone sales have outpaced iPhone since the third quarter of last year, in terms of units sold (although Apple still holds an overall market share lead).

The thorniest problem for CIOs will be supporting Android's many configurations, given its fragmented nature. Android has a plethora of devices running different iterations of the operating system. These different versions support different device management capabilities. Android will be further fragmented with the release of the Android Honeycomb OS, designed specifically for tablets.

And it doesn't stop there: Android device manufacturers are looking for ways to distinguish their devices, often developing their own graphical user interface. An Android HTC Evo phone might be running the latest version of Android OS, but other HTC devices are stuck on earlier OS versions. HTC's graphical user interface, called Sense, has different versions as well. Samsung has its own interface, called TouchWiz.

Carriers, too, are making tweaks to Android devices. For instance, AT&T has disabled loading of apps outside of the Android Market. Verizon made Bing the default search engine on the Samsung Fascinate. The combination of configurations is mindboggling.

Compare this to Apple, which only has a few devices on the market, such as the iPod Touch, iPhone 3, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPad, and two operating system versions. Multiply this out, and IT has nine hardware-software Apple configurations to support. Add a couple more when the iPad 2 comes out probably this spring.

"When Apple upgrades iOS in the next two or three months, a large portion of users will upgrade their devices so you'll still have around nine combinations of configurations," says Reid Lewis, president of GroupLogic, an enterprise tech vendor that enables Macs to access Windows server files. "With Android, it's something like 900."

The help desk will be overwhelmed trying to keep up with so many configurations, he says. If you're developing Android apps in-house, says Lewis, expect to spend a lot of time and money testing apps to make sure they work with all the Android phones in your environment.

Also, companies that don't have a good handle on Android configurations risk data security breaches, Lewis says. For instance, you might not be able to remotely wipe a lost or stolen oddball Android phone.

Another caution: Android lags behind the iPhone and iOS in critical enterprise-class features, says Bryan Pelham, director of product management at MobileIron, a mobile device management vendor. While Android 2.2 provides baseline enterprise management features such as lock, wipe and passcode policy, the platform still lacks encryption, provisioning of enterprise email, and management of security certificates, he says.

Nevertheless, CIOs are being pressured to support Android devices. "At least 90 per cent of our customers are asking about Android and approximately 30 per cent are beginning deployments," Pelham says. CIOs will likely turn to mobile device management vendors to handle the many configurations of Android devices, but there aren't many out there that support Android.

MobileIron, though, is one of them. The vendor has a management architecture that it believes covers the Android fragmentation problem, and is working with Google, Android device manufacturers and carriers to advocate for enterprise features.

Here are MobileIron's tips for CIOs on dealing with the onslaught of Android devices:

1. Create a baseline set of minimum capabilities, so you can identify which Android devices and Android OS versions to support.

2. For company-owned devices, the simplest approach is to standardize on a single device. However, this can be difficult because not all devices will be available worldwide. The same device may have different capabilities depending on the carrier offering the device. Therefore, you'll probably have to designate several Android devices.

3. For employee-owned devices, focus on the baseline set of capabilities and then develop a list of recommended devices.

4. In the long run, work with global carriers with whom you have existing contracts and communicate your enterprise requirements. Find out what devices they are planning to add to their portfolios. Hopefully, they'll factor in your requirements.

5. The Android developer community is a great source for finding out what's new and what's coming. Appoint someone on your team to be a liaison.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com.

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Tom Kaneshige

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