At a small press event in San Francisco today, Google officially launched Android for Work, a set of technologies that makes it easier for companies to adopt Android and allows their users to bring their own devices to work.
The company first unveiled a preview of this technology during its I/O developer conference last summer, but as Google’s director for product management for this project, Rajen Sheth, noted at today’s event, this was an extremely complex project because it involved not just building a new platform, but also working with partners to verify its approach.
Until now, Android for Work was a small invite-only program, and Google worked with a number of partners like Pearson, Woolworths and Guardian Life to refine its approach.
The general idea behind Android for Work is to allow employees to use both their personal apps and business apps on the same device while keeping both the business data secure and their personal data outside of the hands of their employees.
The overall vision behind the project, as Sheth described it, is to enable “a future where every employee is equipped to get work done with mobile devices — today’s personal and corporate smartphones and tomorrow’s advanced business devices.”
“We want to make it really easy for IT to say yes to Android and yes to mobility for more people,” Sheth explained. To enable this vision, Android for Work enables features like IT policies and sharing restrictions that segregate the business data from everything else on the device.
The four cornerstones of Android for Work are:
- support for work profiles that isolate personal and work data and give IT the ability to manage this,
- an Android for Work app for older devices,
- a Google Play for Work store, and
- a set of new productivity tools for enterprise users.
Using early enterprise mobile management services was anything but fun. Employees often had to use separate launchers to get to their business apps, for example. As Sheth noted, though, that approach isn’t all that much better than carrying two separate devices.
For older devices, Google still offers a somewhat similar experience through its Android for Work app, which is available now. While Lollipop supports Android for Work by default (or at least allows vendors to enable it), users on older devices (from the Ice Cream Sandwich release up) will have to rely on this app.
For the employee, using Android for Work means it’s easy to seamlessly switch between apps on the device, while IT admins still get full control over policies, profiles and the business data on the device. Applications that are part of their Work Profile will be highlighted by a small icon on top of the app icon, but except for that, the app will work just as expected and will be integrated into the overall Android user experience.
Admins also get a managed version of Google Play that allows them to manage and distribute pre-approved applications.
Because many of Google’s own mobile productivity apps are geared specifically toward Google Apps for Work, the company is also making a set of more general email, calendar, contact and task management applications available to Android for Work users. These new apps, which also include some basic editing features for documents, spreadsheets and presentations, are fully integrated with enterprise platforms like Microsoft Exchange and IBM Notes.
At today’s press event, Google stressed that it worked with a large number of partners on this project. These include hardware and software companies with a large enterprise footprint, including SAP, Citrix, Cisco, Motorola, HP, Samsung, Lenovo, HTC, Concur, Adobe and Salesforce.
These partners will be able to tap into Google’s APIs for this service to integrate their enterprise mobility management services with Android for Work, for example. At the same time, software vendors will be able to create a single Android version of their business apps and deploy them securely to any Android device without the need for an additional security wrapper.
Overall, the idea here is clearly to make the relatively open Android ecosystem more attractive to enterprises. As Google argues, the mobile enterprise market remains largely untapped and there are billions of devices out there that employees bring to work but can’t actually use to get work done (I know we have some issues with that here at TechCrunch because of AOL’s enterprise security protocols, for example).
Many businesses are already using iOS, which has offered enterprise management services for a while now, but given Android’s broader ecosystem, there are many companies that are still sitting on the fence.