Recently I learned about Nubo, an Israel-based startup that’s working on remotely-hosted Android as a solution for BYOD. It’s an interesting concept, but I’m not sure about how much real-world need there is for it. Let’s take a look at both Nubo and the remote Android concept itself.
Nubo was started in 2011 by Israel Lifshitz, founder of SysAid Technologies. Nubo provides a hosted, highly customized workspace based on AOSP Android, along with corresponding remote display client apps for iOS, Android, and the web. They developed their own remote display protocol, which has been designed to relay mobile-specific information location like touch, location, and screen orientation over 3G and WiFi connections.
The default demo environment includes apps for email, calendar, contacts, browsing, document editing, and a file manager. There are a few customizable options, like the wallpaper, but for the most part everything is very simple. By default users cannot install apps, and Nubo doesn’t support access to Google Services or the Google Play Store. However, IT can push apps directly, and Nubo is planning to add an app store so that users can pull apps from IT as well. Everything in the remote Android environment is kept completely isolated from the client, except for a few basics like keyboard input. The clients are available for free in the Apple App Store and Google Play, and you can start a demo right from the app.
Of course since Nubo is a remote display app, it doesn’t work offline. They suggested that connectivity is becoming less of an issue (you can interpret that as you wish) or that as an alternative users could be given access to a local native email app.
Nubo describes their use case as pretty much the same BYOD use case the whole EMM industry has been working on for the last several years—abstracting corporate apps and data so that IT doesn’t have to worry about managing users’ personal devices. There’s also a security angle, since there’s no data stored locally on the device.
The problem is that we already have a lot of other options for both of these use cases, and many of them don’t have the tradeoffs that come with remotely-hosted Android. If your goal is to keep corporate and personal information separated, then there are several types of mobile app management that can do that. If your goal is to not have any data stay on the device, why not skip the complexity of remote Android and just build a web app?
So what does that us leave for unique use cases? It doesn’t seem like much. What are the chances that there’s an Android app that all your users need and there are no alternatives? Probably not very big. We’re talking about a platform that’s barely 6 years old—there shouldn’t be any legacy apps like with Windows. Today if you’re creating an application that everyone in your company needs, you’ll probably either just make a web app or have iOS and Android apps in addition to a web app.
What else? A remotely-hosted Android environment can deliver a bunch of Android apps, integrated together in a single bucket, abstract them from personal apps, and make them available to any client device. But again, that’s a niche use case, and it’s a long ways away from the general use case of solving for BYOD.
I want to give this idea the benefit of the doubt, but I just don’t see a great need for it. Is there anything that I’m missing, or does anybody see any compelling use cases for remote Android?
(One last note—this isn’t the first time I’ve run across the remote Android concept. The last time was a back at CES 2012, and my thoughts then were pretty much the same—I didn’t think it had any killer use cases.)