Last week, the release by Google of the Android 2.0 mobile operating system coincided with the debut of the first device to incorporate it, Motorola's Droid, which is available through Verizon. With three big players like those involved, and with Verizon kicking off its iPhone-baiting iDon't campaign, there's been a lot of buzz about the new device and platform. I had an opportunity to get a hands-on look at the Droid, and by extension, Android 2.0. Here's my take.
While there's a lot to like about the Droid, it's not the phone that most businesses are going to turn to. The hardware is good, including a lovely high-resolution screen, but the keyboard is definitely something you will want to try before you buy. For me, the keys are way too close together and much too flat to promote good typing. (Oddly, the virtual on-screen keyboard works much better for me). While the operating system, Android 2.0, performs well in many regards, there are just too many drawbacks to it and the Droid to make them viable business tools at the moment. The weaknesses include the following:
Exchange support -- This is the first version of Android with native Exchange support. (Earlier Android devices from HTC did have custom Exchange support integrated.) Unfortunately, Exchange support on Android is very limited, especially with regard to calendar invitations and acceptances. Business users who rely on Exchange need to take a close look at the level of Exchange support available to see whether Android can meet their needs. My feeling is that most folks will be better off looking at other devices that have better integration. Quite simply, if Exchange is mission-critical on the desktop in your enterprise, then proper support is mission-critical for mobile as well. Those companies that might overlook this shortcoming would probably be those that have entered the Google bubble and have deployed Google for e-mail and the like.
Security -- Android 2.0 just doesn't cut it when it comes to security. For one thing, there's no password enabled for the lock screen. You use a series of swipes and gestures. It looks cool, but it's hardly secure. There's also no support for onboard encryption or any encryption of content on the removable Micro-SD cards. Finally, users can opt to install unverified programs, a setting that can't be hidden or removed. That opens up the potential for all sorts of nasty stuff to get on the device and wreak havoc. Not good at all.
Remote management and configuration -- IT folks long ago gave up on the idea of having to support individual devices. It's much easier to support one machine replicated 10,000 times than it is to support 10,000 discrete systems. That's even more so in the case of mobile devices that need standard application load sets and the ability to be remotely managed, or in the case of loss or theft, remotely wiped and tracked. At the moment, Android is lacking in all of these areas. Let's face it, it's all too easy for users to leave their phones in a bar or a taxi (I myself have found at least a half dozen unsecured mobile devices in places like that over the last couple of years). And a cool device is going to attract thieves. Do you want your corporate directory or five-year planning documents easily available to anyone who steals or stumbles upon one of your users' devices? I didn't think so.
At this point in time, the devices we call cell phones are really tiny computers that users put in their pockets and that happen to make phone calls. IT needs to see these devices as the little PCs they are and pay attention to the very same issues that arose when PCs came to the office many years ago. While it's always going to be tempting to focus on the buzz and the excitement of a new device and platform, IT must remember that these devices not only have some great benefits for user productivity, but also pose serious issues in terms of security and management. While Android 2.0 is a nice update for end users, IT departments should think twice before deploying it.