Fragmentation nixed a Cisco-Android network partnership

Cisco has a partnership that makes Apple devices work better, but it tried Android first

Cisco Systems tried to give Android devices the same kinds of integration it later provided for iPhones and iPads but gave up because the Android ecosystem was too fragmented.

A Cisco-Apple partnership announced in 2015 gives iOS devices capabilities that other wireless clients don’t have on Cisco-based enterprise networks. Among other things, enterprises can designate work-related applications like videoconferencing for priority on the wireless link between iOS devices and a Wi-Fi access point.

The partnership will also make it a little easier for Apple fans to work with the Spark Board all-in-one meeting device that Cisco announced on Tuesday.

Android doesn’t have those advantages. It’s not that Android devices don’t work at all with Cisco networks or the Spark Board: Most Spark Board interactions are possible on Android through things like public APIs. But things might have gone a different way.

“We started with Android,” said Rowan Trollope, Cisco’s senior vice president of IoT and applications, in a press briefing after Tuesday’s launch.

When Trollope and Cisco collaboration guru Jonathan Rosenberg went to Google to propose ways to help Android devices work better on Cisco networks, the company was enthusiastic, he said. But because so many players, including carriers and phone manufacturers, can craft their own variations on Android, Google couldn’t hash out integrations with Cisco on its own, Trollope said.

“We like your ideas,” he recalled Google saying. “Go talk to Samsung and HTC and, oh yes, you have to go to Verizon, too.”

Some Android users decry the modifications that device companies and carriers make to Google’s open-source OS, which they say can hobble important features. In addition, vendors and service providers usually upgrade users' phones to the next release of Android only after long delays, or don’t offer upgrades at all. Apple fully controls iOS and offers new releases to all users at the same time, though older devices can’t necessarily run the latest version.

Cisco did approach Samsung, the biggest manufacturer of Android products, but that still left a lot more vendors to deal with. “One by one by one,” Trollope said. “We don’t have the resources to do that.”

Mobile operators might not even want to give their versions of Android all the capabilities that Apple developed with Cisco, he added. For example, the Cisco-Apple integration helps enterprises shift voice calls from the carrier network to a wireless LAN without losing things like call logging for compliance.

“It’s not necessarily in the operator’s best interest,” Trollope said. “Apple can do it, and Apple did do it.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment. A Samsung representative declined to comment.

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