For the first time ever, Google has established a baseline for what constitutes an Android smartphone that's ready for use by enterprises.
"Some of the top concerns we've heard from customers include the need for frequent security updates, reliable and consistent software experiences and simplified device selection," David Still, Google's director of Android Enterprise, said in a blog post.
To address those needs, Google this week launched the Android Enterprise Recommended program, a global initiative that raises the bar for what passes as an enterprise-level device and service.
While all mobile devices have inherent security risks, Android has more vulnerabilities because of its inherent open-source nature, the slow pace with which users and carriers update the OS – creating fragmentation – and a lack of proper app vetting.
Google's "Android Enterprise Recommended" smartphones must meet a minimum set of standards that the company deems necessary for safe and effective use by businesses.
Google has so far assembled a list of 21 "recommended" smartphones that it called "officially" enterprise ready.
The list, of course, includes Google's own Pixel line of handsets as well as models from BlackBerry (KEYone and Motion); Huawei (Mate 10 and P10 models); LG (G6 and V30); the Nokia 8; and several Sony Xperia phones.
What is glaringly absent from the list is Samsung – the biggest seller of Android-based devices.
Samsung did not responded to a request for comment on why it was excluded from the list of approved enterprise handsets.
A Google Cloud spokesperson said the company did "work closely with Samsung on the overall requirements during the development of the program and invited them to be a launch partner."
The spokesperson said the current list of approved handset makers is only the first group of partners to be announced and Google expects to expand the list.
"Samsung is an important brand in the enterprise and B2B markets, and they've been doing many of the things outlined in Google's Enterprise Recommended program for a while," Phil Hochmuth, program director for IDC's Enterprise Mobility team, said via email. "The Google effort is more about expanding the overall Android ecosystem to the enterprise, with levels of security and support assurances, than it is about competing with Samsung."
By choosing smartphones on its Android Enterprise Recommended list, businesses will get "consistent deployment, management and user features that make it easier to deploy, scale and support Android," the company said. And that will "ultimately cut down on support costs" and time spent deploying and servicing devices.
Google published a set of minimum specifications for devices, carrier services and mobility management capabilities for "enterprise-ready devices." It specifies smartphones that are updated with regular security patches delivered within 90 days of their availability and that are guaranteed to get "at least one additional major OS update."
Additionally, enterprise devices must meet:
- Minimum hardware and user interface specifications for Android 7.0+ devices.
- Consistent application experience in managed profiles and on managed devices.
- The ability for businesses to purchase unlocked Android devices through either a third-party distributor or direct from the manufacturer.
- Deployment at scale through QR code and zero-touch enrollment on Android 8.0+ devices.
Included is a list of five zero-touch enrollment vendors.
Google also created a list of enterprise mobility management (EMM) software vendors, with whom it partners and recommends to business in order to manage from a single console corporate-liable smartphones, including handsets that are part of a BYOD program.
EMM is a comprehensive, hardware-agnostic method of remotely managing devices, including their configuration and the enterprise content generated on them, through mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM). EMM is all-encompassing; it can control access to corporate apps, internal websites and even the data silos associated with them.
"Each release of the Android OS will have its own requirements for Android Enterprise Recommended and vendors will have to submit their devices for validation with each new version," the Google Cloud spokesperson said. "Should a vendor not meet a release's standards, they will not make the Android Enterprise Recommended list for the new OS version, but will remain validated for prior versions."
If a device falls out of compliance, Google will remove it from the program and may not validate future devices – or it could remove the partner from the program entirely, the spokesperson said.
In recent months, Google has been working to reduce fragmentation, or the number of Android OS versions in use, because older iterations may be more vulnerable to attacks and unable to run new applications.
The move to create minimum enterprise standards for mobile devices and services is a a good move by Google and its handset manufacturing partners, Hochmuth said, "particularly with regards to important enterprise issues such as security and software OS updates, minimum level of device OS, and somewhat standardized look and default set of apps."
This is only Google's latest attempt to address Android mobile OS-related issues.
The most recent effort by the company to address fragmentation was Project Treble, which tackles some of the underlying issues as to why Android fragments and is difficult to update uniformly across the installed base, especially across international carriers, according to Hochmuth.
"This latest effort directly addresses the fragmentation issue from an enterprise perspective, though the overall approach is a result of Treble and the updated framework, which makes for faster updating of software on top of the core kernel," Hochmuth said. "Bottom line, businesses care most about timely security and OS updates."
Treble gives IT decision makers a good short list of smartphone makers and carriers that will have guaranteed, regular patches.
"Having a minimum-level of device OS (N and above) is also helpful to businesses, as is standardizing default apps and underlying look-and-feel of the [OS] – both address key end-user support and device deployment challenges," Hochmuth said.
Businesses can expect more Android Enterprise Recommended devices to be added to the list "in the coming weeks and months," Still said.
"Throughout 2018, we will also be applying the Android Enterprise Recommended framework to additional partner types, including [manufacturers] of 'dedicated' and rugged devices, mobile carriers, enterprise mobility management (EMM) providers and systems integrators," he wrote.