Android BYOD should be easier in 2018 (and in 2019, and in 2020...)

Android enterprise (Android for Work) OEM support has been mandatory since Android 6.0, so it’s finally spread enough to make the jump.

Last week, AirWatch announced what might seem like a small change, but in fact is a big sign for the future of Android management across the whole EMM space.

In a blog post, VMware’s Dan Quintas wrote that Android enterprise (formerly Android for Work) will become the default option for managing Android in the AirWatch console. The older device administrator approach will be considered legacy, and in new tenants, will only be available by exception. Let’s look at why this is so important.

Android 6.0+ is now dominant

Ever since Android enterprise was announced with Android 5.0 in 2014, we’ve been wondering when it will finally filter through the ecosystem enough to have a significant effect on BYOD.

Specifically, I’m talking BYOD for typical office workers. For corporate-issued devices, purchasing decisions can take into account the supported MDM capabilities. And for BYOD among field workers and non-employees, companies will likely use an apps-only (without MDM enrollment) approach anyway. But BYOD for office workers is where things get interesting. There are multiple MDM and apps-only management options; work and personal data lives side by side on the same device; there are privacy issues to deal with; and IT is often expected to support any device that comes in the door, within reason.

Android 6.0, the first version where Android enterprise support went from being optional to required, came out in October of 2015. According to the Android Developers Dashboard, 53.5% of Android devices now run 6.0 or higher. That’s a long way from full compatibility, but we can assume that most typical office users have decent phones, and they probably replace them about every two years or sooner.

The result is that we’re at the the point where the vast majority of Android phones that walk in the door with typical office workers (as defined above) will support Android enterprise. In addition, EMM vendors have now had plenty of time to work out support, include key aspects like Managed Google Play and accounts.

You can see now why AirWatch’s announcement was timed the way it was, and why it’s a big sign of the future. Along with other improvements focused on enterprise-owned devices (read more in Jason Bayton’s recent post), 2018 is going to be a big year for Android enterprise.

7.0 and beyond

Taking this model a bit farther, Android 7.0 has many features that really start to change the MDM versus MAM conversation for BYOD. For example, 7.0 enables a passcode for just work apps; users can suspend work apps any time they want; and work/personal integration is smoother. It came out in August of 2016, so again giving two years plus some buffer time, companies will be able to apply policies using these features to most BYOD Android devices in 2019.

Then there’s 8.0, which has even more refined features, including the ability to take advantage of file-based encryption. File-based encryption isn’t mandatory, though, so in this case we can’t yet make the some type of prediction.

Hopefully the advent of Project Treble, which makes Android easier to update, will mean that in a year of two we’ll be able to shorten the time from feature introduction to leveraging it for BYOD policies. And there are a few more features that would still be nice to have—I’m crossing my fingers for multiple work profile support!

Conclusion

It will be a while longer before we can rely on more recent features, and different use cases will lean towards different approaches, but overall the stage is set for Android enterprise to get a lot more use in 2018.

Just after this article was published, Google announced that the older Device Administration MDM API will be deprecated over 2018 and 2019. (Blog post | Developer documentation.) I wasn’t aware of this change when the I wrote my article, but I’m guessing it also explains the timing behind AirWatch’s announcement. The Microsoft Intune team wrote about the change, too, and I'm sure other vendors will chime in. Lastly, I’ll plug another one of Jason Bayton's posts, his guide to migrating from legacy to modern Android management. These are good times for Android in the enterprise.

This article was updated on December 20, 2017.

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