Android in the Enterprise

Android smartphones battle with BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 and Apple iPhone for acceptance in the workplace.

After attending a series of mobile-oriented conferences, it's clear that Android-based handsets and tablets are next up on the consumer-to-enterprise conveyor belt.

And with the Verizon Wireless large-scale launch of its data-oriented, high-speed LTE (Long Term Evolution) 4G network in 38 mobile markets across the United States-with scheduled coverage comparable to the company's existing 3G network slated for 2013-the fat pipes needed for a host of mobile handsets are being put in place.

The Android operating system and the handsets on which it runs is fast changing in ways that make it more appealing to both consumers-who will then likely carry the devices into the workplace-and to enterprise managers. On the enterprise front, the Motorola-built, Verizon Wireless-supported Droid Pro is among the first Android devices to offer Cisco IPsec VPN connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum, the Kyocera-built Zio that runs on the Sprint network, among others, is a price-busting Android handset that will likely increase the number of consumers carrying Android smartphones.

Research In Motion and its BlackBerry devices continue to be among the most popular enterprise-issued smartphones and communication devices. At both the GigaOM Mobilize conference and the CTIA expo-both held in the last month in San Francisco-provided tracks focused on RIM products and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server infrastructure. But that wasn't driving the buzz at either event.

The Windows Phone 7, launched in New York this week and being previewed nearly everywhere I looked, is certainly a contender for a successful push into the enterprise. Microsoft's effort to build a developer base and the strategy of providing handset and carrier choice set the stage for enterprise uptake.

But my interest over the next year is going to be focused on the Android OS, marketplace, handsets, carriers and enterprise-class features. In the battle royale with Apple and the iPhone and iPad, along with BlackBerry, with its nearly ubiquitous handsets and recently announced PlayBook tablet, Android-based systems stand a fighting chance. As the fast-changing OS continues to morph to meet consumer and enterprise needs, and as the handsets continue to shape-shift to accommodate and balance more cameras, microphones and connection ports while still maintaining decent battery life.

Android apps will be a key part of my ongoing evaluation process. O'Reilly just released Building Android Apps, and the growing interest in the app developer community for the Android OS was clear at the confabs I attended. Here, Apple sets the gold standard for app compatibility and stability but falls short in providing enterprises the ability to create custom apps for competitive advantage accompanied by deployment choices outside of Apple's App Store.

Of course, integration with corporate messaging and security systems will be at the top of my watch list for Android devices. Aside from Microsoft Exchange mailbox support, which is table stakes for any mobile handset that hopes to be accepted in the enterprise, I'll be looking at the fit and finish of e-mail, contacts and calendar integration. Exchange policies that enforce password complexity requirements will also be among the first features I look at in Android handsets to judge the suitability of these devices for use in the enterprise.