Android 3.0 HoneyComb is Google’s attempt to make Android tablets finally competitive with the hot-selling iPad. That primarily means goodies for consumers and developers. But there were some notable features that your IT admin or CIO will love.
Some enterprise features, like strong support for security certificates, remain missing. But the ones added may still be enough to help jumpstart mass adoption of Android tablets in the enterprise. Here they are, ranked from most to least important.
1) Full disk encryption. For protecting data from prying eyes, when passwords and PINs aren’t enough. HoneyComb will not only offer encryption, but it will also allow IT administrators to set policies that force corporate workers to use it (since some workers might skip encryption for performance and battery life reasons).
RIM has long offered device encryption, though BlackBerries have historically not stored much data locally (which is why RIM also offers encryption of data while it is in transport, i.e. sent through the network). So HoneyComb still doesn’t match BlackBerry out of the box, though it does beat iOS 4.
iOS’s “Data Protection” feature only automatically encrypts data in its Mail app. For other app data, IOS developers must rewrite their apps to enable encryption. On the other hand, there is no shortage of third-party software that enable policy-based disk encryption on iPhones and iPads (including, full disclosure, the market-leading Afaria software offered by my employer, Sybase).
The downside of encryption, as mentioned above, is a drain on both CPU and battery, though it’s unclear how much. Google does warn that those running encryption for the first time should be plugged in or have a full battery.
What’s also unknown: the type and strength of Honeycomb’s encryption, and if/when this feature will migrate to smartphone-oriented versions of Android.
2) Stronger passwords. Android 3.0 offers security-focused administrators three key features: 1) ability to make passwords expire after a certain time period; 2) ability to mine the password history so as to force users to pick new ones; 3) ability to force users to use complex characters to strengthen their passwords.
3) App compatibility between smartphone and tablet. While Android 3.0 includes many features to make the OS run sweetly on larger-sized tablets, it remains ” fully compatible with applications developed for earlier versions of the platform, or for smaller screen sizes,” according to Google’s developer site. “Existing applications can seamlessly participate in the new holographic UI theme without code changes, by adding a single attribute in their manifest files.”
This is a boon for developers of all stripes, but especially enterprise ones. That’s because developers of games and other consumer apps where the user interface is a key competitive advantage will still need to rewrite their apps as the screen size shifts. Apart from analytic dashboards, most enterprise apps are more data-driven than UI-driven. Rewrites won’t be needed in most cases.
4) Better user interface. Thumbnails at the bottom of the Android screen that displays all of the running apps, which you can easily switch among. Easier cutting-and-pasting of text. More subtle notifications (bottom right of screen, rather than smack-dab in the middle, passively-aggressively demanding to be acknowledged ala the iPad). Tabbed browsing in Google Chrome. Need I continue?
5) Web-based Android Market. Strictly speaking, this is not a part of Android 3.0, it just happened to be announced the same day. And strictly speaking, nothing’s yet changed for enterprises.
What has happened is that users can choose/buy apps via the online Android Market, and then download them straight to their device over-the-air. Contrast that with an iPhone or iPad – if you buy an app via iTunes on your PC, you’ll have to physically tether your Apple device to your PC and sync. Not Apple’s most elegant solution.
The important thing is this: by shoring up the consumer side of its house, Google is now free to focus on improving app distribution for enterprises. Right now, businesses appear to have only two alternatives: 1) post their app on the Android Marketplace or some other overly-public site, and then invite their employees to go and download the app; 2) Point users to a company Web server hosting that file.
Problem is that neither of these channels allows IT managers to proactively push apps and needed updates to employees over-the-air. BlackBerry Enterprise Server has been able to do this for years, while Apple introduced this feature last summer in iOS4. Google will need to offer this soon to be truly competitive in the enterprise, or some third-party vendor will need to pick up the slack.