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Get to know Android for Work profiles and productivity features

Now that Android for Work is out, we dig into the features of the program’s work profiles and productivity apps.

Google’s Android OS has been a limited player in the enterprise market until now. With the release of the Android for Work program, however, the company enabled some stronger security features and application programming interfaces to work with enterprise mobility management offerings.

Google Android for Work is a set of services and technological components that provide business profiles for personal devices and improve the management and security capabilities for IT over those devices. IT must use Android for Work through management technology built on top of the program by an approved enterprise mobility management (EMM) vendor such as AirWatch by VMware, Citrix, IBM Fiberlink, MobileIron, BlackBerry or SAP.

The following are the most important features in Android for Work and the new Android 5.0 Lollipop version that enables it.

Native work apps

Enterprise workers have long wanted a way to separate work apps and files from personal apps and files while still having the ability to work in a native environment. One of the biggest capabilities in the recent release of Android Lollipop is that it allows devices with Lollipop to run work-related apps natively.

IT can administer and provision these apps through their EMM console by setting up a specific profile. This allows the user to have a secure container or "sandbox" that separates corporate data from personal data. From a user perspective, the apps look pretty much the same, but the distinguishing characteristic is a badge designating that they are in the secured Android for Work container.

Implementing work profiles

When it comes to user buy-in with mobility, having enterprise IT provide these productivity tools rather than tools that are difficult or cumbersome makes all the difference.

Google Android for Work allows IT to deploy work profiles for devices that run Lollipop, the Android for Work app for older Android OSes and Google Play for Work that facilitates IT’s provisioning and management of enterprise apps. Currently, only phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and 3, Galaxy S4, HTC One and LG G3 run Lollipop 5.0. Android for Work can also be deployed as a separate app for Android versions 4.0 to KitKat 4.4.

Implementing work profiles should go pretty smoothly for IT, given that you can manage them through the EMM console. When users go to the Google Play Store and download the Device Policy Client, they need to have their device encrypted, confirm their device passcode and enter their Google account credentials to access the applications attached to the Android for Work profile.

Productivity features

Android for Work offers some productivity features that make it easier for users to work remotely and still be productive. For example, on devices with Lollipop, users can view company email in the same stream as personal email. It also allows employees to open an attachment or link with limited or no hoops to jump through (with the possible exception of a passcode if it needs to be opened in a sanctioned app). Users can then edit the document in that attachment on their mobile device, save it to Google Drive or another sanctioned cloud storage service and access that same document at work without having to email it to themselves -- all under encryption.

Built-in productivity apps, mainly the Chrome Browser, Google Slides, Google Docs and Google Sheets, are also part of the Android for Work package. I have seen many companies deny use of these apps, mainly because of their heavy Microsoft infrastructure, but it will be interesting to see if more organizations will sanction these offerings given that the apps are so readily available within Android for Work.

When it comes to user buy-in with mobility, having enterprise IT provide these productivity tools rather than tools that are difficult or cumbersome makes all the difference.

Remote wipe

Most employees want to trust their organization not to access personal information, but the No. 1 concern for users around bring your own device (BYOD) is that big brother IT is governing and spying on their device. But with an Android for Work BYOD Managed Profile, the device has both a personal and Android for Work container. That means that IT can wipe only the Android for Work container if that situation arises.

App updating

Since I am all about productivity, one of the new features I like in Android for Work is the ability for IT to provision and remove apps without involving or interrupting the end user. Users often don't read communication IT delivers with changes to their enterprise apps, so this is a great option for IT to do this silently. Admins can update devices or apps, and then notify employees afterward without the users having to install anything themselves.

Keep an eye out for more updates on how organizations are using Android for Work. And if your organization is interested in adopting this program, check out some of the great whitepapers out there.

Next Steps

What you need to know about Android device management

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This was last published in March 2015

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What intrigues you about Android for Work and what else would you have liked to see included?
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I like the mix of proprietary apps and third party app support. If anything, I would like to see stronger authentication procedures and better security protocols.
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My favorite part: built in apps to work alongside the Chrome browser.
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The secure sandbox isn’t new. What is new is the ability to create that sandbox and run the apps natively.
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