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Android OS fragmentation curbs enterprise adoption

Google trails Apple in the enterprise mobility market. But despite fragmentation and security concerns, Android remains the only real competition to iOS.

In the battle for enterprise mobility market superiority, Android OS fragmentation and security concerns are holding Google back.

BlackBerry has quickly fallen from the top of the market and Windows, despite offering its mobile OS for free to smartphone manufacturers, remains on the periphery, which leaves Android in the best position to challenge Apple's iOS. Recent moves -- particularly the release of Android for Work, which enhances security with features such as Work Profiles -- show how serious Google is about making headway in the enterprise.  

Fragmentation is a serious problem with Android devices. Each manufacturer puts its own spin on a device, providing features and configuration options different from other Android devices. Even if all devices are running Android 5.0, administrators must still contend with vendor-specific hardware features and software tweaks.

In addition, not all Android apps are created equal. The apps running on a Samsung device might not support all the features available to those same apps on a Nexus device. With iOS, IT can think primarily in terms of a base OS to manage, with the majority of users running the most current version. With Android devices, IT must think in terms of lots of manufacturers and versions.

If an organization is willing to restrict its users to one manufacturer, administrators will likely be more successful managing the devices, but such a strategy limits the organization's options and generally does not sit well with its employees.

Android OS fragmentation and the cost of iOS devices might provide an opening for Windows devices to make greater advances into the enterprise. The devices support enterprise features, such as Active Directory integration, and can win customers especially if Windows 10 wins over naysayers and overcomes Microsoft's less-than-stellar mobile history.

Android security concerns won't go away

Many in IT see Android devices as too risky for the enterprise, viewing the OS as primal soup for malware, and it can be hard to convince them otherwise, considering the statistics surrounding Android devices.

With Android devices, IT must think in terms of lots of manufacturers and versions.

In Android's defense, it's not surprising its devices are such targets, given they represent more than 80% of the world's mobile devices. In addition, most malware comes from apps downloaded from sources other than Google Play. According to Google, the risks of infection are minimal if users download apps only from the company's app store.

Much of the risk an enterprise faces comes from phishing attacks, rather than vulnerable apps. Even so, Android devices are the ones receiving most of the negative press, and IT teams have a tough time ignoring the headlines.

Android OS fragmentation only makes matters worse. Unless an organization dictates exactly which Android devices are permitted, such as restricting support to Samsung Approved For Enterprise (SAFE) devices, IT has no control over what security mechanisms are available or how well the device can be protected, which is why most in IT prefer Apple's tightly controlled infrastructure.

Despite Android's challenges, the OS can't be discarded, especially with programs such as Android for Work and Good for Samsung KNOX making headway. Many vendors have recognized their futures lie with enterprise adoption, and are making security and management top priorities.

The release of Windows 10 might help Microsoft make some inroads. Even BlackBerry can't be discounted, with offerings such as BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10.

Next Steps

How IT can approach Android fragmentation

Apple vs. Android vs. Windows for the mobile security title

Are you ready to start developing for Android

This was last published in September 2015

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How does your company deal with Android OS fragmentation?
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Most of our development efforts have gone in to iPhone because it has been an easier target to hit and hit well. Android development lags behind because of the proliferation of test devices we have to qualify on.
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Even in our little company, the fragmentation is a huge problem. It's rare that any two Androids on the same job will have the same OS, the same implementation, the same home screen.... Even when we try to attack the problem, it seem impossible to get it right for every possible phone. I use an Android, but this is exactly why my industry has standardized on Apple and built most of its software for that platform..
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Internally, it’s not that big of an issue because we don’t have many mobile apps, and the apps that most people use their mobile for are hosted web-based apps, which tends to help overcome the fragmentation issue. Externally, we make use of device information, and target the most popular devices. It’s not an ideal solution, and it dodges the old zero-one-infinity rule (we should support zero versions, one version, or all versions).
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