Google will provide enterprise-focused security and management features to its entire Android showcase of mobile devices, including features reserved only for Samsung devices running Samsung's Knox security software, a Google executive announced during the Google I/O keynote address Wednesday.
The work-related features will appear on smartphones and tablets from competitors to Samsung when the next generation of Android, dubbed only "L," is available in the fall, said Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome and applications for Google.
Google also will also bundle up the current Knox security capabilities to make them available to previous versions of Android, Pichai said during the developers conference in San Francisco.
"We really want to thank Samsung for [carrying] over] Knox to all of Android," Pichai said. "There will be one consistent experience."
Calling the enterprise capabilities "Android for Work," he said all Android smartphones will have the ability to partition personal data from work data, to make it easier for IT staffs to monitor apps and data being used for work-related purposes. Knox, first introduced by Samsung in early 2013, provides the ability to partition work from personal data on many of its smartphones and tablets.
"No one wants to carry two phones," Pichai said. "With L, there will be a whole set of APIs (application programming interfaces) to unify both experiences for a user, one for personal and another for corporate. That's full enterprise security."
All the apps for workplaces will be available through the Google Play store and will can be sold in bulk for enterprise purchasing, he said.
Android has consistently suffered from the reputation of being less secure and less manageable for enterprise use than other platforms, including iOS. In apparent response to such concerns, Pichai said 58% of the Fortune 500 have "gone Google," although he didn't define what he meant. Presumably he meant those companies have some Android smartphones and tablets and perhaps Chromebooks.
On a slide, Pichai indicated that Android for Work features will be available for devices from Dell, Huawei, HTC, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Samsung, Sony, LG, Motorola and Asus.
Several analysts greeted the work-related features of the coming Android L cautiously although they had urged the company on Monday to address that need.
"This is the first time that Google seems to be catering directly to enterprise concerns for Android, which has the lowest level of security among the major platforms," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. Gold said Google's acquisition in May of Divide, an enterprise software company focused on BYOD services, was a key reason for the dual persona announcement.
Gold said the dual persona capability will put Android ahead of iOS, adding that Apple "doesn't appear to be willing to discuss dual persona to address growing bring your own device concerns." But, he added, "now Apple may change its tune."
Use of Word docs in Google Docs
Gold also cheered Pichai's separate announcement that Android users will be able to do edits of native Word documents within GoogleDocs. Gold called that move "another big nod to business and a reaction to the continued delayed release of an Office capability for Android."
Analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group said that incorporating Knox into all of Android is a "strong improvement," but noted that the rise globally in security risks, especially with newer 64-bit root kits used by malicious hackers, will soon make the security of Knox "just an oxymoron." He said Google "did take a big step in the right direction, just not big enough."
Carolina Milanesi, chief of research for Kantar Worldwide, praised Pichai in a tweet for thanking Samsung for its work on Knox but added, "surely this means more competition for Samsung in the enterprise now."
For Android to be fully capable for enterprises facing the BYOD threat, Milanesi said Google had to add a partition of personal and work data in the Android L release.
Samsung has taken steps to separate itself from Google in the past, making Google's announcement Wednesday to use Knox for all Android products somewhat of a surprise. Samsung started selling two Tizen OS-based smartwatches in April, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, but then Google announced that an Android Wear smartwatch called Gear Live from Samsung would be on sale in the Google Play store later Wednesday.
Apparently both Google and Samsung continue to see the need to cooperate closely, analysts said.
Also during the keynote, Pichai and other Google officials provided a peek at other features in Android L, which many had thought would be dubbed Lollipop, but Google gave it no such name. The upcoming release will have 5,000 APIs in all, making it one of most comprehensive of any Android release.
One striking new feature of L will be the ability to launch all Android apps from web links. Also, users wearing an Android Wear smartwatch that's connected via Bluetooth to an Android smartphone or Chromebook won't need to enter a password when prompted. Given that users check a smartphone many times in a day, wearing a smartwatch to indicate the correct user is present to use the smartphone will make tasks easier on users.
Even with such improvements, analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said "little jumped out at me as most of their mobility announcements were refinements of what they've talked about already. L is faster, more capable, gets better battery life, looks better, is more secure and works more naturally. But this is what they said about KitKat and are now saying about L."
Android L will also come with design refinements that include more vibrant colors, animated buttons and the ability to make animations float with shadows on the layer just below. The design changes, called Material Design, will appear in an Android L preview for developers, providing them a unified set of style guidelines that can work on screens for smartphones, tablets and laptops.
This article, Within Android L, Google makes unprecedented pitch for enterprise users , was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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