Android 4 (so far dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich for 4.0.x or Jelly Bean for 4.1.x) is a significant upgrade to the user experience adding in many refinement and features. For enterprises dealing with the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, some of these upgrades can be a double-edged sword.
First let’s cover the positive — Android 4 catches up with Apple’s iOS by adding a few key security features. Most notably, Android 4 adds whole-disk encryption (WDE) to mobile devices, specifically phones. WDE is a carryover from the tablet-focused Android 3.x (Honeycomb). Another catch-up feature important to some industries is the ability for device administrators to disable the camera functionality — a feature that has been available on iOS since iOS 4.
Along with these positive upgrades, Android 4 brings some user features that may increase the complexity of BYOD management. Easier and more accessible sharing: Apps can now make use of NFC/Android Beam, Wi-Fi-Direct, Bluetooth HDP, and built in Google+ Cloud Synch to make it much easier to just click a contact or bump a phone to exchange data. Where is your corporate data being bumped to? Companies and employees alike will want more insight into what apps are capable of doing with their data. A feature referred to as “Sharing with Screenshots” allows users to more easily take screenshots of their device to share with others. This could pose some problems for security apps that go a long way to prevent data leak by turning off copy and paste of text. If users can just simply snap a screenshot and email, how secure will these apps be?
So, How Important is Android 4 to BYOD?
Let’s get back to the initial question: How Important is Android 4 to BYOD? Android 4 by itself is very important. Google’s Android holds a strong position in the Smartphone market with 51.6% compared to Apple’s 32.4% (according to comScore MobiLens – more on that can be found at ZDNet here), and Android 4 is an effort to show that they are ready to compete face-to-face with iOS. However, Google still faces a big problem for BYOD. While Android 4 can throw some pretty good punches, I have to ask a very frank question: Do these punches matter yet? With the majority of Android devices (especially phones) still running Android 2.x, the impact of Android 4 is held back a bit. According to this article on The Verge, Android 2.x accounted for over 85% of Android devices back in May 2012. According to Google (reported here on DroidDog), Android 2.x still accounts for around 75% of devices.
So at this point, while Android 4 is making strong competitive gains, it seems like its impact may still be curbed by device adoption. Keep an eye out here on the blogs — I’ll revisit this topic as we see the next round of Android 4 devices work their way onto the market and see if Apple’s iPhone 5 will steal any of Google’s momentum.