Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why Android Is Bad For Business [Android]


As a guy who spends way too much time in Google apps, I look forward to testing Android now and as it develops. I need my Gmail and Gcal straight away, and would expect to see support for Google Docs materialize at some point, at least via the browser. Now that it's launched, though, it's easy to see some obvious weaknesses to Google's Android strategy, starting with a lack of target user. Jesus explained why average consumers may not fancy the hodgepodge open-source UI of the G1, but business users really get the shaft here, too. At present, Android poses no threat to BlackBerry or even Windows Mobile, and makes the iPhone platform's restrictiveness sound like a sales pitch.

Let's start with the obvious: No Exchange server means no corporate push e-mail. This didn't catch us off guard, as there were rumors that the G1 would launch without it. However, we were surprised by the sheepish looks on the Google executives' faces when reporters pressed the matter. "We expect this to be solved by third-party developers," was all that they said. Yes, it is true that some very nice mobile e-mail management has come from third parties such as Good (now owned by Motorola). But the fact that the Android team isn't spearheading the integration of push e-mail means it doesn't think of enterprise apps as a priority.

Jump from there to the lack of desktop syncing. I am with all the people who like the fact that mail and calendar data syncs over the air (for "free")—it is a great consumer service. But if you can't connect to an exchange server and desktop ActiveSync to Outlook is out of the question too, well, that means hordes of suit-wearers will simply have to say "no" to this device.

As if that wasn't enough of an ix-nay for IT buyers, Android's security issues are pretty significant. Because of the open-source nature of the OS, programmers have access to core functionality they wouldn't be able to access when dealing with platforms such as BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or the iPhone's OS X. True, like Windows Vista, the system is designed to ask you to grant new applications permission for each and every capability that an app desires, as you can see above. But it's easy to say yes to things you wouldn't necessarily understand. Is it bad that an app I don't know well can "modify global animation speed"? Honestly, I don't know.

Update: What we meant was open, not open source, as in more freely accessing parts of the hardware that apps don't necessarily need to access. An example would be a rogue flashlight app that you happened to grant permission to access your microphone, and it theoretically records your conversation with your coworkers.

More importantly, apps with that kind of access can easily muck up the rest of the system, like so much crapware on a new PC. An app full of weird conflicts doesn't have to be malicious to be disastrous. The Android Market is a place to get Android apps, but Android apps will be available from any source, and you'll be able to install them directly. It's good news for tinkerers who know what they're doing, and it does support the free-market approach for distributing software, but it could easily lead to brickage of company property.

IT pros look for certain security features too, such as the ability to remotely wipe a lost or stolen phone's memory, or to establish a virtual private network. Trusting third party apps for this isn't a problem on paper, though shopping for, vetting and deploying competing applications as they're developed could easily create as many problems as they're ! supposed to solve.

The trouble with leaving core features to third-party developers is that it often leads to nasty blame games. Microsoft has gotten in the most trouble in the past when it launched software platforms—a good example would be the PlaysForSure music DRM—then refused to take responsibility when third-party developers failed to implement it successfully for users. It's a built-in cop-out, and that may work for daring nerds with extra cash and a disdain for status-quo devices, but it doesn't work for mass-market consumers, and it certainly doesn't work for the most skittish buyers of all, corporate IT dudes. Sorry Google—I for one would like to see a little more stewardship, and an acknowledgment that if Apple can implement Exchange, VPN and other corporate goodies, well, you got no excuse.