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Android adds zero-touch provisioning for corporate devices

New Android device enrollment capabilities let IT configure settings and EMM before deploying to users -- but they have some manufacturer limitations.

Android shops can now buy and deploy preconfigured devices for their users.

With new Android zero-touch provisioning, which Google announced today, organizations no longer have to manually configure devices and enroll them in enterprise mobility management (EMM) software. Instead, the IT department can set that up through a portal when buying the devices, which then ship with the selected settings and pre-installed software. Zero-touch provisioning finally gives Android an answer to Apple's Device Enrollment Program (DEP), but its lack of device support could limit its usefulness.

"Being able to do this is pretty big, but you need to extend it to more devices," said Brian Katz, enterprise architect at Oath, a global online media company. "One or two is not enough."

Who supports Android zero-touch provisioning?

In the U.S., the new Android device enrollment program is now available for Google Pixel phones purchased through Verizon Wireless. AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile plan to offer zero-touch provisioning later this year, and the Huawei Mate 10 and Sony Xperia XZ1 devices will support the program in the coming weeks, Google said. The company also said it is working with other Android device manufacturers, including Samsung, LG Electronics, HTC, Motorola and BlackBerry, to bring zero-touch provisioning to their devices.

Fragmentation -- the issue of so many different devices being available, with not all supporting the same operating system versions or features -- has been a problem in IT departments since Android's inception.

"That's the part we in the enterprise have concerns about," Katz said.

But large organizations -- those most likely to use Android zero-touch provisioning -- typically choose from a small subset of devices. So fragmentation may not end up being a major issue with this program, said Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

This is another piece in the puzzle that was missing for Google.
Nicholas McQuirevice president of enterprise research, CCS Insight

Plus, by this point, most IT professionals know what they're getting into with Android. Organizations need the newest models to take advantage of the newest features, said analyst Nicholas McQuire, vice president of enterprise research at CCS Insight in the U.K.

"That's always been a trade-off when companies are looking at Android," he said.

Another potential problem is that only certain EMM providers support the new Android device enrollment program. Those include VMware, MobileIron, BlackBerry, IBM and Soti. Microsoft and Citrix are the most notable omissions from that list.

By contrast, the Apple DEP is available through Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and other carriers and resellers, and it has support from all iOS devices and major EMM vendors. Plus, starting with iOS 11, Apple now allows IT to add devices purchased outside the program, either by the organization or by individual users.

"This is another piece in the puzzle that was missing for Google," McQuire said. "It gives companies more choice, but it will be a challenge for Google to usurp Apple."

Pros and cons of zero-touch provisioning

With zero-touch provisioning, IT assigns a user ID to a specific device during the purchasing process. When the user receives the device for the first time, they sign in with that ID, and their settings and EMM software are already configured.

The traditional way that organizations configure and enroll devices is by getting users to download and install an EMM agent app, often through a QR code or emailed link provided by IT. The user must then sign into the app and complete certain additional steps before setup is finished.

This manual process is "much more difficult," Bowker said.

"If organizations want to deploy Android at scale, it's got to be something that's easy to do," he said.

Next Steps

Is the Google Pixel a worthy buy?

Find out why Apple needs to get better about BYOD management.

Read about the productivity features in iOS 11.

Dig Deeper on Google Android operating system and devices

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