Today VMware announced that Horizon Mobile for Android, their dual-persona mobile virtualization product, is finally available on two phones from Verizon (the LG Intuition and the Motorola RAZR M). We’ve been waiting for this release for a long time, so today’s announcement feels important. However, there still some interesting surprises that could change the way we think about Horizon Mobile.
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Horizon Mobile for Android consists of a guest virtual machine that separates corporate apps and data from personal apps and data on the host. If you’re not familiar with it, you can read these articles to get up to speed:
- VMware first announce the Mobile Virtualization Platform in 2008.
- There was more interesting discussion about mobile hypervisors in this 2010 article from Brian.
- They talked more about it at VMworld US 2011.
- They announced partner carriers at VMworld Europe 2011.
- But by 2012, mobile app management (MAM) emerged as a way to deal with dual persona (separating work and personal apps and data).
- There was debate about the need for mobile virtualization.
- Shortly before VMworld 2012, I had a look at the features in Horizon Mobile for Android.
- At VMworld US 2012 VMware announced they would be doing MAM for iOS, but that they were also still committed to virtualization for Android.
- By the end of 2012, many other vendors had gotten into enterprise mobility management products, while we were still waiting for VMware to release anything.
- VMware released the Horizon Workspace app for iOS and Android earlier this year.
And of course today, Horizon Mobile for Android is finally being released.
The problem with mobile virtualization is that it requires a specially-modified version of Android to act as the host—it won’t work on just any Android device. With VMware Horizon Mobile, there’s a kernel module that lies latent in the host until it’s activated by installing an app from VMware. Users login and connect the app (called VMware Switch and available in Google Play) to their corporate environment, and then IT can provision and manage a work VM with appropriate apps and policies.
What’s new with today’s announcement is that Verizon is installing the kernel module as part of over-the-air operating system updates. In fact, the two phones that were announced today—the LG Intuition and the Motorola RAZR M—already had the update with VMware’s kernel module pushed to them about a month ago. So if you have one of these phones, it already works with Horizon Mobile!
Verizon has plans to push the update to more existing phone models in the coming months. This means that VMware Horizon Mobile will be available on a larger number of devices than we previously thought. The old assumption was that this would only be available on new phones, so this is kind of a big deal.
How big? Verizon may be the largest cell phone carrier in the US, but as we’ve known all along, when it comes to mobile virtualization, we still have to deal with fragmentation in some form or another. In this case, Horizon mobile won’t be available on phones from other carriers, and VMware didn’t mention anything about tablets, either. Compare that to other vendors’ dual persona mobile app management products, which can work across a much wider range of devices from different carriers. Right now all VMware has for these other Android devices is the Horizon Workspace app and an email client.
For sure today’s announcement is a huge win, and I don’t want to take anything away from that, but we’re still left wondering if VMware is going to go full-on into mobile app management for Android, like it intends to do for iOS.
Still, this is an exciting time. There was a trial release of Horizon Mobile for Android starting last December in Japan, but now after talking about and debating this product for nearly five years, we finally can get our hands on it and see what happens.