Google and Symantec both just bought mobile email app vendors. What’s up with that?

Two prominent mobile email app vendors were acquired this month: On May 19th Google acquired Divide, and on May 28th Symantec acquired NitroDesk, the makers of TouchDown. Both vendors provide secure manageable third-party Exchange ActiveSync clients aimed at the enterprise.

Two prominent mobile email app vendors were acquired this month: On May 19th Google acquired Divide, and on May 28th Symantec acquired NitroDesk, the makers of TouchDown. Both vendors provide secure manageable third-party Exchange ActiveSync clients aimed at the enterprise.

For now products from both Divide and NitroDesk will continue to be available, but regardless, changes are bound to come up. Let’s look at each of these acquisitions on their own, and then at their cumulative impact on the industry.

Divide and Google

Right now it’s not very clear what Google’s plans are for Divide. A statement at Divide.com com mentions that Divide will apparently be part of the Android team, and that “for existing customers, Divide will work as it always has.”

What else could be happening? There’s a lot of speculation:

  • It’s possible Google could be getting into the enterprise mobility management market, or they could be augmenting the management capabilities that come with Google Apps for Business. (This would make sense considering the direction that Microsoft is going with Intune and Office365).
  • Or Google could finally be working on improving the native mobile device management capabilities in Android (there was a rumor about that a few months ago) or adding other enterprise features.

But really who knows? For one, Google is already good at making email apps. Maybe Google wanted some more enterprise-oriented talent and IP, and buying Divide was a good way to get some all at once? We’ve been waiting for years to see if Google would ever get more serious about enterprise mobility management. This is at least the start of something, but we’ll have to wait to find out what.

NitroDesk and Symantec

NitroDesk TouchDown is often cited as one of the best enterprise email apps out there. They’ve been around since the early days of Android and have over 3000 enterprise customers and over 2 million users. NitroDesk just a 9-person company (as of last time I checked in with them in February), and I like their scrappy, can-do attitude.

Symantec has pulled together a lot of different components to form their EMM solution over the last few years, and actually that even includes their own email app, announced about a year ago. So what are they getting out of NitroDesk? The answer is a lot more clear than with Google and Divide. I haven’t used Symantec’s email app so I don’t know how good it is, but now with NitroDesk they’re getting TouchDown, the undisputed leader of enterprise email apps, along with a customer base to which they can upsell other Symantec mobility products.

(Update, May 30 2014, 8:35 AM PST: Just a slight correction—it turns out that Symantec's email app was actually already OEM'd from TouchDown.)

Going forward, Symantec plans to integrate DLP into TouchDown and update the UI, which was never a strong point. (Besides NitroDesk, they’ve also been busy with a range of other mobility updates, including plans for rebranding and adjusting the SKUs for the line later this summer)

What about other partners?

Both Divide and NitroDesk have always had a lot of partners, especially MDM vendors that didn’t want to get into the business of creating their own line of productivity apps. But now that Divide and NitroDesk are both no longer independent, these partners might be prompted to rethink their relationships for various reasons at some point in the future. Of course there are other third-party email apps out there, but generally they either have a much lower profile than Divide and NitroDesk or they’re just not enterprise-focused.

At the same time, as mobile device management and mobile app management have merged and evolved into enterprise mobility management, most prominent EMM vendors have created their own email apps. (The one exception is MobileIron—they rely on partnerships with both Divide and NitroDesk, so this could prompt them into action.) 

Final thoughts.

I don’t want to get into the “third-party” versus “native” email app conversation in this article. (For that conversation, see here and here.) Let’s just say there are good reasons to use each technique, so any EMM vendor should be able to provide both of them.

For today, I’ll say this is good for Symantec and NitroDesk and good for Google and Divide, but most of all I’m curious what’s going to happen with Google, Divide, and Android. I’m not convinced that Android MDM fragmentation will go away anytime soon, but any action from Google would be welcome.

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I have been a Touchdown user for many years. I'm very sorry to hear about them being gobbled up by Symantec. Say goodbye to one of the best Exchange clients for Android.


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Disclaimer: I work in mobility BU at Symantec.


Just a point of clarification and a shameless plug.


1. Symantec Secure Email was actually based on Nitrodesk (via an OEM partnership) with some customizations - not the least of which is enabling our Symantec Sealed technology for it (www.symantec.com/.../sealed-marketplace).


2. With respect to A-Citrix-tech's comment - with some products I would agree that Symantec has not had the most pristine track-record, but specific to mobility we have done a lot of work with acquired technologies to make them really great. UX is a really big part of mobility (and should be for all enterprise software), and our goal is to enhance UX wherever possible.


The proof, of course, will be in the forthcoming releases but I am rather bullish based on some insider knowledge. The rest of you all will have to wait, and I hope you keep an open mind.


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Time will tell....


I really hope Touchdown doesn't get killed like other acquisitions (I also use Backup Exec, I'd rather not talk about it).


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