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Amid Security Concerns, Google Aims To Beat Apple To Your Work Phone

Watch out, iPhone and BlackBerry: Android wants to be the world’s work phone of choice.

Amid Security Concerns, Google Aims To Beat Apple To Your Work Phone
[Image: Asif Islam on Shutterstock]

If you have a job and an Android phone, Google wants to make sure you’ll use your smartphone at work. This week, Mountain View announced a new Android for Work program with an ambitious goal: convincing corporate IT teams that Android phones are great for crunching work documents or viewing proprietary information.

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Achieving that goal will mean overcoming concerns about apps in the Android Play Store, which boasts fewer controls over apps compared with Apple’s App Store, thus making it easier for apps to contain dangerous malware and spyware. Widespread reports of malware in Google Play have scared IT staff away from enterprise adoption, and the much larger market of non-sanctioned app stores in foreign markets like China (which may have non-existent malware controls) have been a continuing PR headache for the platform. About 96 percent of the malware employed by hackers targets Android, says U.S. security firm FireEye, which examined over 7 million mobile apps on Android and Apple iOS between January and October 2014.

Android for Work creates separate sandboxed accounts for work activity, built around a native “Android for Work” app (consisting of secure mail, calendar, contacts, browsing, and documents) that can be controlled by IT teams, along with a separate Google Play for Work app store, and a built-in productivity suite. IT managers can control how data is managed within the workspace, for instance, by disallowing copy and paste from apps in the secured workspace into a user’s personal apps. (The technology for “containerization” came in part from a startup Google acquired called Divide.) As part of the launch, Google is placing front and center the idea that companies can sharply tailor the smartphone work experiences of their employees.

Up Against The Big Apple

Google’s appeal to offices that have a “bring your own device” policy, or BYOD, is, in part, an attempt to prevent Apple, Microsoft, and others from cornering an extremely lucrative market. As more and more companies migrate away from BlackBerry (which is partnering with Android for Work in an apparent attempt to ally with Samsung against Apple), they’re going to look for an equally secure environment to work in. Google wants to make sure it’s Android, and not iOS.

Market share of mobile platforms in the workplace in Q4.Source: Mobility Index Report by Good Technology

In 2014, 81% of smartphones shipped globally relied on Android, according to Strategy Analytics. But while Android is making inroads into businesses globally, it faces stiff competition from Apple. According to Good Technology, a mobile security provider, Apple commands 73% of activations in the workplace and Android only has 25% market share. While Android was installed on 45% of all devices in the high-tech industry, in regulated industries, it said, iOS significantly outpaced Android: For example, iOS made up 95% of devices in the legal industry, 82% in the public sector, and 81% in financial services. “While no specific reason is reported,” says Good Technology’s report, “perhaps the perception of security issues across the fragmented Android landscape is slowing Android adoption in these industries.”

According to surveys last year by Forrester Research, approximately half of information workers worldwide use Android for their primary smartphones, and only 31% use iPhones. When Forrester polled information workers in 2012, only 37% claimed Android affiliation.

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In a study released Thursday, SOTI, which manages smartphones for enterprise use and partnered with Google on Android for Work, found many workplace Android users are glued to their phones: Their own survey found that 67.5% of their respondents used their phone more than once a day, and 32.5% said they use their smartphones constantly. Of the 460 survey respondents, 32% of respondents indicated that “separation of personal and work content” was their biggest issue, while 36% said security was their main concern.

Another challenge for Android for Work lies in branding: Portraying itself as up to the task of heavy and secure workplace use. Boris Metodiev, an analyst at 451 Research, told TechRepublic that Google tends to be associated with consumer and cloud solutions, not with proper enterprise applications.

“Lots of enterprises, especially government organizations, believe that the Android operating system is not secure enough, so that’s why they avoid having Androids in the first place. They tend to go with iOS, with Windows, or with BlackBerry even,” he said.

Several software suites and operating system mods dedicated to taming Android for the enterprise are already out there: Samsung unveiled their Knox program in 2013, and Symantec’s TouchDown came out last year. Another company, Silent Circle, offers a heavily modified version of Android designed for secure office use.

Android for Work was first announced at Google I/O 2014, but the final partnerships for the project were only announced this week. Among the partners providing applications, networking tools, and eventually, pre-installed versions of Android for Work on their devices, are SAP, BlackBerry, Citrix, Samsung, Sony, LG, Lenovo, HTC, Motorola, Huawei, Dell, HP, Salesforce, SAP, Adobe, Box, and Cisco.

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