Is fragmentation killing Android in the enterprise?

Android may rule consumer smartphone shipments, but it’s getting trounced in the enterprise. So is Google’s new enterprise mobile security plan up to the task of raising Android's measly share of the enterprise? The answer may lie in the diversity of "the enterprise".

Google yesterday launched Android for Work, its program to make Android for easier to control for businesses via standard enterprise mobile device management (MDM) software.

Security is at the core of Android for Work and the program offers customers of Google-approved MDM vendors a chance to create work profiles that they can manage, regardless of the hardware their employees use, so long as the devices are running Android 5.0 (Lollipop).

But can a program, designed just for Android 5.0, which counts for less than two percent of the billion Android handsets in consumers’ hands, turn the tide on iOS in the enterprise?

Android for Work has nearly zero chance of succeeding in regulated industries, according to MDM vendor Good Technology’s activation figures for the fourth quarter of 2014 released on Thursday.

During the quarter, iOS’ share of activations in legal services was 95 percent, while for public sector it was 82 percent and financial services it was 81 percent.

The company doesn’t know why new iOS activations are so high in these industries but speculates it’s to do with that “the perception of security issues across the fragmented Android landscape is slowing Android adoption in these industries.”

Google launched Android 5.0 or Lollipop last November but the OS still accounts for 1.6 percent of the more the one billion smartphones that connect to its app store. The dominant versions remain Jelly Bean, followed by KitKat, which together account for over 80 percent of all Android devices.

For these versions of Android, Google is releasing an Android for Work app, which it hasn’t yet fully detailed but may be it’s Divide BYOD app.

Read more: Shadow IT threat lingers as ANZ businesses drag feet on cloud moves

Google has addressed fragmentation through Google Play Services to update its core apps such as Gmail, Youtube and Maps regardless of the OS version, keeping those apps up to date and secure. But late last year Google also stopped internal work on security patches for WebView in Android below KitKat — a core component of the OS that allows apps to present web content.

Google explained its decision in January but didn’t backtrack. It probably didn’t help the perception that Android fragmentation poses a security problem for the enterprise.

Meanwhile, according to Good Technology, iOS activations jumped to 73 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, up four percentage points quarter-on-quarter. It was entirely at the expense of Android activations, which fell from from 29 percent to 25 percent over the period.

And while Good can’t fully explain why regulated industries don't want Android, it points to a clear reason for iOS’ gain overall: “the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus powered gains for iOS”.

Can Google make headway with Android in the enterprise with a narrowly applicable security program in the face of new hardware for the masses from Apple?

The answer may be yes if Google's focus with Android for Work is solely on boosting Android adoption in industries that face low compliance requirements.

According to Good’s figures, high tech, manufacturing, and transportation sectors saw Android activation rates between 45 percent and 35 percent -- sectors where BYOD programs are likely in place. Making it easier for these organisations to allow Android into the workplace can't hurt.

Additionally, Google has ensured Android for Work doesn't trample on its efforts to win over regulated sectors, such as the US Department of Defense.

After all, Google borrowed from Samsung to benefit all Android device makers and didn’t take the parts of Knox that give Samsung’s devices an advantage.

If Google can nudge up activation rates in these sectors in a way that benefit it and its Android OEM partners, Android for Work might just do the job.

This article is brought to you by Enex TestLab, content directors for CSO Australia.

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