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Android 11 features zero in on security, privacy

Google's first developer preview of Android 11 highlights features aimed squarely at the enterprise, including bolstered security, a focus on compatibility and improved messaging.

New Android 11 features will likely not represent a major shift for the enterprise, but industry observers believe they will help IT professionals better manage mobile devices.

Google released the first developer preview of the updated OS last month, with a final release expected in the third quarter of 2020. Among the changes are a few items -- including improved biometric support and limited-time permissions for applications -- that experts said would affect businesses.

Eric Klein, an independent analyst, said the improvements reflect Google's larger efforts to appeal to enterprise customers.

Eric KleinEric Klein

"The way in which they're approaching their overall strategy as an organization -- from Chrome to the cloud and G Suite [productivity applications] -- they're continuing to refine their assets for business use," he said.

A focus on privacy and security

Android 11, per the preview, includes changes intended to bolster privacy and security. One feature offers users greater control over what applications can do; it lets users -- or IT administrators -- give apps one-time-only permissions to access such things as location data or a phone's camera and microphone.

According to Google, this builds on an Android 10 feature, in which users could permit an application to access such data and features, but only while the app was in use.

Andrew HewittAndrew Hewitt

Forrester analyst Andrew Hewitt said the granular data control offered by this feature is in line with modern enterprise security.

"[It] is more philosophically aligned [than before] with a zero-trust strategy -- where a user only has access to what they need, and nothing more," he said.

Klein said the feature will work as part of an overall device management strategy to help prevent bad actors from taking user data.

"There are many ways enterprises are protecting themselves that are well-known, basic security hygiene: restricting application usage, blacklisting apps -- things of that nature," he said, adding that controlling app permissions is a further step along that journey.

Android 11 will also reportedly include greater biometric support, notably by making it easier to integrate biometric authentication into apps and allowing developers to determine which biometric inputs -- like fingerprints, iris scans and face scans -- they consider strong or weak.

Hewitt said such a feature will interest IT professionals as they look to eliminate passwords -- a frequent pain point in ensuring enterprise security.

"While passwordless authentication still remains immature in adoption, it's certainly on the minds of many mobility management professionals," he said.

Other effects on the enterprise

While security improvements are an integral part of Android 11, they are not the only ones set to have an impact on companies.

Holger MuellerHolger Mueller

Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, said he saw changes like improved 5G support -- including a feature that determines whether a device is on a metered or unmetered network and adjusts data traffic accordingly -- as new and necessary steps for Android.

The implementation of new messaging and chat "bubbles" -- notifications that float on top of other applications and thus enable text conversations while multi-tasking -- was taken as a heartening sign for productivity.

"[It's] good to see Google not giving up on messaging," he said. "The new messaging will likely improve [the] everyday user experience on Android."

Hewitt said that with Android 11, Google has implemented new processes and options to ensure OS updates do not break app compatibility. Google announced methods, for example, to help developers test for compatibility by turning changes on or off -- making it easier to determine which new OS behavior might pose problems.

"[Compatibility] has been a perennial issue in enterprise mobility," Hewitt said.

Competing with iOS

Klein said the improvements in Android 11 -- especially those related to privacy and security -- reflect Google's desire to compete for the enterprise. He noted Android's reputation for security has long lagged behind that of iOS.

"There's a perception that it's just not secure -- that hasn't gone away yet," he said. "Many [administrators] will say, 'I'm not trusting an Android device. I'm not trusting my employees with Android devices.' That perception is still there, and it's something Google has to overcome. I think they are overcoming it."

Google, Klein said, has historically faced criticism for the cadence of its security patches and its reliance on partners to push out those patches. The company has been working to improve that process, he said.

"In order to [compete] effectively -- to ensure that peace of mind IT requires for mass rollouts -- they're going to have to … show they're serious about security and privacy," he said.

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