Android 2.2 Enterprise Features Spur Analyst Debate

Google is launching Android 2.2 on several smartphones this summer, but analysts Michael Gartenberg and Jack Gold differ on just how enterprise ready the Froyo build is. The consensus is good for some businesses, but not those with the most stringent lock-down needs.

Google's Android 2.2 operating system is geared toward catching the eye of more businesses. While it won't be confused with the lock-down cachet of Research In Motion's BlackBerry platform, it does boast some solid enterprise capabilities.

Unveiled at Google I/O in May and released to open source June 23, Android 2.2 offers policy management APIs to enable developers to write applications that can enable remote wipe, lock-screen timeout and other features for Microsoft Exchange on Android smartphones.

Specifically, there are numeric pin or alphanumeric password options to unlock a device, and Exchange administrators can enforce password policy across devices.

Exchange calendars are now supported in the Calendar application. Auto-discovery lets users know only their username and password to set up and sync an Exchange account.

Still, analysts differ on whether or not Android 2.2, or Froyo, is truly enterprise-ready even as the version is set to roll out on such devices as the Motorola Droid X, HTC Droid Incredible and HTC Evo 4G this summer.

Michael Gartenberg, partner at The Altimeter Group, said in a July 20 Computerworld column that Froyo is now acceptable for some businesses to deploy, citing the added support for Microsoft Exchange as an example.

Currently, users looking to sync Android devices to Exchange servers need to use a phone with a custom version of Android such as HTC's Sense UI or a third-party application. But Exchange mail, calendars and contacts all sync in Froyo.

Moreover, Froyo also supports a full corporate directory with search. "While it's not best of breed, it is acceptable for most business use," Gartenberg said.

Gartenberg also believes security has taken a major leap forward in Android 2.2 with the ability for users to leverage full alphanumeric passwords and the ability for IT departments to control passwords and wipe devices clean from afar through an Exchange server.

However, he does acknowledge that Android 2.2 is still missing on-board encryption for removable media cards, remote tracking and the ability to remotely manage standard application load sets for mobile devices.

The lack of these features is exactly why Jack Gold, of J. Gold Associates, isn't so sold on Android yet as an enterprise platform. In his June 15 research note, Gold said:

"The biggest failure of Froyo is the lack of on-board data encryption to secure device-resident data. They are finally adding device kill and management with support of a few policies, but for any enterprises that have Exchange policies being enforced, it's not enough."

While there are some third-party apps that "fake" the security policies and allow Android to connect to Exchange, this is trickery and not enhanced security, Gold added.

"The primary fault lies in the inability of Android to enforce key corporate polices set within Exchange so companies can assure compliance before allowing a device to connect. The upcoming version of Android (2.2) is better but still suffers from a lack of real enterprise-class policy enforcement. We therefore believe that Android poses a significantly greater risk to enterprises than the other major mobile OSes."

The absence of strong policy enforcement and implementation with ActiveSync on Android means Android will watch many large organizational deployments go to RIM's BlackBerry or Apple's iPhone with third-party security extensions.

Of course, Android 2.2 is still not widely available on devices except for Google's own Nexus One so until the OS build hits the devices it's supposed to hit this summer, corporate Android appeal will be minimal at best.

"IT departments need to get the word out to users that their Android devices won't be considered for enterprise support until they are upgraded to 2.2," Gartenberg said, adding that that won't happen until much later this year.