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Android N: 5 reasons Google's mobile OS is now enterprise-grade

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Matthew David Digital Leader, Accenture
 

Google is making a concerted effort to bring Android into the enterprise, having started with Android M and the inclusion of Android 4 Work. Android N is extending the tools and security needed for Android to be successful. The focus is clear: Google is making significant investment in order to retain and grow market share in the enterprise. The question is how it can rein in Android fragmentation in the meantime.

This article will answer that question, and cover the following topics:

  • What's new to Android N
  • The new “wow” feature
  • Concerns around Android fragmentation and how to mitigate it
  • Moving to enterprise-strength apps, and more
  • The future of Android vis a vis iOS and other tech

 

Android's global appeal

It is clear that Android is the world’s most dominant mobile operating system. Android is installed on more than 1.4 billion devices worldwide. In China and India, Android penetration is as high as 90 percent. And there are reasons why Android is so popular: The OS is free to distribute, OEMs have control over the hardware, and Google frequently updates the OS and core apps, keeping the platform fresh.

But you can also argue that the primary reason for Android’s popularity is the price: Android phones are cheap. For years, many corporations have ignored Android, preferring Apple’s iOS-powered iPhones and iPads. The challenge is that Android phones are now of excellent quality and come at very low prices. The Moto E 2nd Edition is now down to $35 for the whole device, whereas iPhones can be 20 times that price.

In a world of uncertain economies, consumers are looking for a cost-effective device. We can almost see the release of Android N at Google’s 2016 I/O conference as perfect timing: Android is now fully ready for the enterprise.

I'll give you five reasons why.

1. Great new features in Android N

Google is moving into a cadence of upgrading the mobile OS every 12 months. Unlike previous years, when the final release of Android came in November, the final version of Android N is slated to arrive in the third quarter of 2016. Android N is listed as 7.0 in the SDK. N is not a point release but a full release. Key new features include:

  • Improved security
  • Better productivity
  • Virtual reality

Updated security is the first and foremost new feature in N. Google is stressing this over and over, and for good reason. Security has been a challenge for earlier releases of Android. The new security improvements include file-based encryption, media framework hardening, and seamless updates. The seamless updates are especially exciting, because Google will now be able to push out updates in the background. This is similar to how Google’s Chrome web browser is updated. The result is that Android will always be updated with the latest security patches.

Android N will now also support improved productivity tools such as a split window, picture in picture, and improved notification management. The goal is to keep the open app the center of focus and remove distractions.

Another new feature of interest is Android virtual reality, known as Daydream. Google’s Daydream product is essentially the latest version of Google Cardboard, a low-cost, easy-to-implement virtual reality framework.

2. Instant Apps, the new 'wow' feature

The big news when Google announced Android N was the release of Android Instant Apps. This feature goes a long way toward solving one of the biggest challenges in the digital world today: You have to build a website, and you have to build an app. The challenge for marketers is that it is easy to send a URL/web link in an email or text message, but the same cannot be easily done for a mobile app. If you are an insurance company, for instance, wouldn’t you want to send out an email that links directly to a policy application form but uses the rich formatting of a mobile app to provide a delightful experience?

Android Instant Apps looks to break down the barrier between HTML5 web and native mobile apps.

The way Instant Apps work is simple. A web link is sent to a consumer. The user clicks on the web link from the email or notification on his Android phone. When the web page loads, if there is an Android version of the same content, then only the pieces of the Android app are loaded. The full app is not needed, only the parts of the content on the page. The result is that Android Apps are loaded on demand.

While it will be a year before Android Instant Apps can go mainstream, the good news is that Android Instant Apps is not unique to Android N. Any version of Android 4.2 and later can benefit from Android Instant Apps. That's more than three years of Android devices, or almost all 1.4 billion active Android devices. Instant Apps truly has the potential to revolutionize the web.

3. Taking Android fragmentation head on

The key to Android's popularity is that handset makers and telecom carriers can modify and control how they distribute Android OS. Unfortunately, the result has been many variants of Android. The most notable changes are seen with devices from Samsung and Amazon's Kindle. Today, there are more than 24,000 variants of Android.

The main reason for all these Android variations is that companies want to put their own footprint on the OS. For this reason, Google is splitting the UI and front-facing apps from the core OS. The division provides Google a place to keep core Android features updated without breaking any brand-specific features. Companies such as Samsung that have deep Android modifications can still keep their features without breaking the core Android N OS.

4. Android OS gears up for the enterprise

The last two years have seen an extreme shift in Google's plans regarding the enterprise: It has realized it needs to be there. The first public support for enterprise-specific tools came in March 2015 with the announcement of Android for Work (A4W) a layer in Android that splits work and personal data on a single device.

Android N is extending the features to make Android even more attractive in the enterprise. A4W will offer administrators more control over the divide between personal and corporate data. In addition, Android itself is adding core productivity improvement, and that heightened focus on security is essential for the CISO to endorse.

5. Google is prepping Android to compete against iOS, Windows

In many ways, the mobile device war is moving into its next stage: winning the enterprise. The first stage is done. Consumers worldwide have ditched their feature phones for smartphones. In many ways, Apple and Microsoft are winning in the enterprise space. Apple has mindshare for phones and Microsoft for desktop and hybrid laptop/tablet computers. The advantages Google has with Android are price and consumer appeal.

Google's power play is to develop a version of Android that is easy to administer but offers the high-level security needed in a corporation. Android N is addressing these needs. The difference between the three leading operating systems is now a matter of personal choice.

Now, three strong choices

What this can mean for enterprises is that they must prepare to support multiple platforms: Windows, iOS, Android, and web. Unlike the OS wars of the 1990s, do not expect one company to dominate all devices. Google, Microsoft, and Apple are at the top of their game and have the deep pockets to invest in their platforms.

The winner is the enterprise, because you now have the choice that leads to improved competition and reduction in prices. Welcome to the company, Android N.

 

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