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Google Unveils Android for Work Mobile Device Management Program

Google this week unveiled its Android for Work effort, which gives organizations some mobile device management (MDM) options.

Android for Work is an MDM platform that supports Android applications. It's also a partner program for Google's hardware and software vendor partners. IT departments will get the benefit of having a "consistent management" approach for Android devices via the program's "standardized management APIs." Developers will be able to "create a single version of any Google Play app that can be securely deployed to any Android device without alterations or wrapping," Google promised, in its announcement.

The platform has four technology components: a Work Profiles security capability, an Android for Work suite of apps, a Google Play for Work deployment and management solution, and built-in Microsoft Exchange and IBM Notes support.

The "Work Profiles" component is designed to help IT pros isolate the work apps and data on an Android device from personal items. Google is promising that "people can use their personal apps knowing their employer only manages work data and won't erase or view their personal content." Work Profiles uses encryption and security capabilities in Android 5.0 "Lollipop," according to the announcement.

The Android for Work app provides "secure mail, calendar, contacts, documents, browsing and access to approved work apps," which can be managed by an IT organization. It's for devices running Android versions ranging from "Ice Cream Sandwich" (4.0) to "KitKat" (4.4). Apparently, the Android for Work app is an alternative option, since Google states that its Android for Work platform requires using mobile devices with "Android 5.0 and higher."

Google Play for Work is a system for managing and deploying Android for Work apps. A Google support article explains that the icons of the business apps managed with this system will appear with "badges" that distinguish them from personal apps. IT pros can white list permitted business apps for deployment to end users. They can control application access based on policies. They can also remotely wipe applications and data from a device "without touching the device owner's personal data."

Google's announcement states that its business apps include built-in support for Exchange and Notes, providing "document editing capabilities for documents, spreadsheets and presentations."

Organizations can use the Google Play store to approve and purchase Android for Work apps. That capability can be set up via the Google Admin console, as Google describes here.

There are even "free" Google Play for Work apps. IT pros can assign them to individuals or groups. The free apps also have "enterprise mobility management" capabilities, according to this Google support article.

The mobile management capabilities that are part of the Android for Work program depend on Google's enterprise mobility management (EMM) partners leveraging Google's platform. Organizations will have to use the services of these partners, it seems. For instance, a Google support page states that "companies must choose a third-party EMM provider to provide the tools to administer their Android for Work deployment."

Apparently, Google is only announcing the program this week. Sign-ups for using Android for Work via Google Apps for Work accounts aren't yet available at this time. "This functionality will be available soon," the support page promised.

Google already has management, device, application and networking partners that have signed up to support the Android for Work program. Google's management partners include companies such as AirWatch, BlackBerry, Citrix, MobileIron and SAP, among others.

Notably missing from Google's partner list is any sign of Microsoft, which makes its Intune mobile device management service and System Center Configuration Manager products. The company has been plugging its own mobile device management story with Windows 8 and the forthcoming Windows 10 operating system for some time, and it's also included iOS and Android as part of its MDM vision.

Google's program seems quite similar to the MDM vision laid out by various Microsoft luminaries. In a recent talk, Brad Anderson, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Enterprise Mobility, explained that Microsoft has built containers specifically for iOS and Android. It's also positioning Windows 10 as an OS with an MDM layer that will permit organizations to manage business apps and data separately from personal apps and data on devices.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed late last week that Microsoft is not an Android for Work partner with regard to its Intune and OneDrive products.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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