Is Linux-Based Android 2.2. Ready for the Enterprise?

Google and Apple continue to slug it out in a death match to see who will dominate the smartphone market, with Apple debuting its iPhone 4 , and Google in May rolling out Android 2.2.

While much of the discussion is on the enormous consumer market, what's arguably more interesting, or at least lucrative, is who will win the hearts and minds of mobile enterprise users.

What's unique about corporate users is that there are two groups that demand satisfaction: the enterprise users and the mobile IT departments who care about security and manageability of mobile devices.

Fortunately for those charged with overseeing smartphones in the work place, the latest version of the Linux-based Android OS adds some features to help make system administrators a bit more comfortable with having a rogue Android smartphone on their network.

With Android 2.2, an administrator can remote wipe the mobile device if it's lost or stolen. And when someone's phone does go missing, Android now supports backup and restore of data and user settings. (That should cut down on the whimpering from users who need to switch to another phone because they left it at a beer garden.)

While these new features are nice to have, the demand for Android phones at most corporations is not going to come from the IT department, but rather corporate users.

You know the situation, the CEO comes into work with this cool new phone and now wants to hook up to the network, check e-mail, work on documents and impress her friends with all the neat things she can now do -- including making it a Wi-Fi hotspot, which is a new Android 2.2 feature.

To help with her e-mail, Microsoft Exchange support in Android 2.2 is a lot better. The calendar now works and Android can take advantage of Exchange's auto-discovery to make logging in much easier.

Google's Linux Open Source Strategy for Smartphone Success

But the key to Android's success isn't going to be mobile applications Google developers build but rather those built by third-party developers.

This is where Apple and Google differ. Google's approach to Android is that they're not going to build any phones, or very many applications. What Google will build are platforms, and the open source Android is their mobile platform. If you think about it, it's very similar to what Microsoft did to compete against Apple back in the day when desktop computing dominated the industry. Rather than building the hardware and the software, Microsoft built an operating system that could run on just about any hardware and they left the bulk of the work to third-party software and hardware vendors.

That's essentially what Google's doing with Android.

In April, Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat down with the National Editor of Forbes Media Quentin Hardy. Schmidt told Hardy that mobility is the future of computing, and that Google is planning to position itself to take advantage of the exploding smartphone marketplace.

In one year, the percentage of mobile phone subscribers who own a smartphone jumped from 16 percent to 23 percent, according to Nielsen's smartphone data.

"What's really important right now is to get the mobile architecture right because mobility will ultimately be the way you provision most of your services," Schmidt told Hardy and the crowd of CIOs at Atmosphere. "Now today that seems crazy, because mobile devices are largely a problem in a corporation because they don't support all of the existing enterprise apps."

However, he said that if you fast-forward five or 10 years with the investment and growth in mobile computing, "the answer should always be 'mobile first.'"

"Our best strategy," Schmidt said, "is to provide the interoperability platform, the sharing platform, the authentication platform, and have these more vertical apps built by third-parties, so they can sort of figure out what's really needed."

That does sound familiar doesn't it?

Speedy Android 2.2 Entices Mobile App Devs

To entice developers to build applications for the Android platform, version 2.2 makes a couple of significant improvements.

For starters, the latest version of Android is a lot faster. According to the Google Android 2.2 demo video, the Dalvik VM just-in-time compiler is two to five times faster than Android 2.1.

And the browser got a speed bust too. Google claims that the new V8 JavaScript engine is two to three times quicker than previous versions of Android.

But in terms of actually being able to build better applications, Android 2.2 takes a couple of steps forward.

Now developers don't have to rely on the limited internal memory of the mobile device because the user can choose to install applications on the device's SD card.

Also, application developers can take advantage of new backup and restore APIs that allow application data and settings to be saved remotely -- making it easier for users to move to another mobile device.

Keeping applications up-to-date got a lot easier in Android 2.2 too. Now there are "auto-update" and "update all" options. With just the check of a box or the press of a button, the device's applications are brought up-to-date.

Another cool feature for developers is crash reporting. If an application gets glitchy and crashes, the user can submit a report that developers can read via the Android Market Web site.

So who's winning in the mobile enterprise market? For now, it's still Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices.

Even so, in just 18 months, Android is a real competitor to both the iPhone and RIM's BlackBerry, so the race is far from over.

Currently, Android-powered handsets have about 9 percent of the smartphone market according to Nielsen's Q2 quarter 2010 data. BlackBerrys lead the pack with about 35 percent, and Apple's iPhone is second with 28 percent.


open source, Google, Android, Android 2.2, mobile IT