The hidden benefits of Android fragmentation

Android fragmentation makes management device management difficult because there are so many devices with different OS versions out there, and hence different management capabilities.

Android fragmentation makes management device management difficult because there are so many devices with different OS versions out there, and hence different management capabilities. While this makes it hard for companies to deal with managing BYOD, custom mobile device management APIs from OEMs could make Android ideal for company-issued devices.

OEM MDM APIs

When we talk about Android fragmentation, we deal with two separate issues. The first is that many devices are running older versions of Android and may not be upgradeable. These older versions of Android floating around will make it hard for companies to manage devices with consistent policies.

The second type of fragmentation comes from OEMs, as many manufacturers add their own custom MDM APIs. These custom APIs add more features around email settings, VPNs, application management, selective wiping, and other areas, all giving tighter and more refined control over devices. Some examples of this are Samsung SAFE (Samsung Approved For Enterprise) devices and devices  from manufacturers that partner with 3LM (Three Laws of Mobility), a subsidiary of Motorola. (3LM partners include HTC and Sony Ericsson, among a few others.)

These OEM MDM APIs are great for expanding the features of particular devices, but naturally a nightmare for companies that want to manage their employees’ personal devices. There are a lot of variables to worry about: not only do companies have to worry about their own management requirements and employee expectations, but also they have to make sure that their MDM solution of choice supports the OEM’s management APIs, too. (Not all MDM providers support all device manufacturers’ management APIs.) Things can get messy, and patchwork of different MDM policies that varies depending on what device a user brings in is hardly BYOD-friendly.

Not good for BYOD, but good for corporate devices

If these fragmented Android MDM capabilities don’t help BYOD situations very much, where do they have value? The answer is in corporate issued phones. While a device-agnostic future where BYOD and corporate devices can be treated exactly the same is a nice idea, there will still always be a market for more tightly-controlled corporate phones and tablets. With the decline in popularity of Blackberry, Android devices with these tighter management features could become standard corporate devices.

There are a few advantages and disadvantages here: users get to have popular mainstream devices, there are already a ton of apps and SaaS clients for Android, and there are many more inexpensive Android devices out there. On the other hand, management with these custom APIs  still probably won’t be as tight as management from solutions that are completely vertically integrated. (Will we ever again have situations where the phone hardware, OS, and management system all come from the same vendor? Probably not very likely.)

And finally, just to be clear, this only solves issues for corporate-deployed phones. (And maybe for a subset of users that happen to bring in devices that are compatible with their company’s system.) All the issues surrounding BYOD and mobility are still there—companies still have to figure out what apps they want to use, how open to make access to email and other apps, and how to keep users happy. For corporate devices, however, custom MDM APIs from OEMs could make Android a compelling choice.

 

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