Google is now giving enterprises a new way to distribute their Android apps to employees—through their own "private channels" set up inside the Google Play Store.
The idea is that by allowing businesses to create the personalized channels, they'll be better able to distribute their own internally built Android apps and approved apps that are already available through Google Play.
"Whether you've built a custom expense reporting app for employees or a conference room finder, the Google Play Private Channel is designed to make your organization's internal apps quick and easy for employees to find," Ellie Powers, product manager for Google Play, wrote in a Dec. 4 post on the Google Enterprise Blog. "Once your company has loaded these internal apps using the Google Play Developer Console, users just need to log in with their company email address to browse the Private Channel and download apps."
The private channel stores "make it easier than ever to get the internal Android apps your company develops into employees' hands," wrote Powers. The program is available to Google Apps for Business, Education or Government customers.
Dan Maycock, an analyst with Slalom Consulting, said the new private channels inside Google Play are similar to what Microsoft started doing when Windows 7 apps began appearing for customers.
"Google is basically doing the same thing," Maycock said. "Enterprises are worried about apps because they don't want to open up their devices to every app in the world due to privacy and security concerns. This is a good option."
Companies are often scrambling to figure out how to set rules and procedures for how their workers can use apps on their mobile devices, said Maycock. "They're trying to see what they should do that isn't overly restrictive, but at the same time falls in line with corporate governance, best practices and their legal needs. Those are all the things that a company considers when it comes to new technology."
The new Google Play private channels would essentially allow enterprises to create whitelists for apps that they want their workers to have and use.
Some enterprises already have their own private, internal app stores, but those are mostly populated with home-built apps specific to a business, said Maycock. For businesses that already have such internal app stores, the new Google service could supplement them, he said.
"It's probably a year or two out before we have critical mass on enterprise app stores," he said. In the meantime, the Google private channels store option "could be the right tool for companies who haven't yet gone to their own stores."
So far, though, there are not a lot of internally built Android apps out there that are being used by enterprises, said Maycock. One reason for that is that the Android ecosystem is still too fractured, with multiple and noncompatible versions of Android being used on a wide range of devices, he said.
That's why enterprises that want to use custom apps often build them on Apple's iOS instead of Android. "It's simpler to support one device than 20 different devices and a fractured ecosystem," he said.
In 2011, Google officials acknowledged these problems and said they'd work to fix it, according to Maycock. The new private channel program could be one part of those efforts. "This is yet another step to make Android more viable in the enterprise, to help resolve the fractures of different Android operating system versions."
With that in mind, the private channel store could more likely appeal to medium-sized businesses, he said, because they're not typically building their own apps and they'd like the idea of a one-stop destination where their employees can access approved apps.
Medium-sized businesses are "usually BYOD [bring your own device], but they're not big enough to take on mobile devices and build their own app stores," said Maycock.
The app store business has been booming for Google and Apple lately, according to a recent research study from analyst firm App Annie. Global Apple App Store sales revenue in October totaled four times the revenue brought in by Google's Android Play Store for the same period, but the Play Store scored a huge 311 percent growth rate since January, setting the stage for interesting competition between the two vendors.
In its 16-page App Annie Index Report for November, the firm stated that the Play Store catch-up to the Apple App Store is under way. While Google Play paid revenue grew by 311 percent since January, Apple's paid revenue only grew by 12.9 percent, according to the study.
The Google Play store was only officially created in March to combine what until then were separate sites where Android lovers could buy their favorite apps, music and ebooks. Before Google Play, users had to shop through the individual Android Market, Google Music and the Google e-Bookstore sites.
In September, Google's Play Store hit an impressive milestone when it reached the 25 billion download mark for content purchased through the store—after only six months of sales.