Google wants to take Android to the office. The company recently pushed its business-friendly initiative, Android for Work, with a splashy livestream and a tempting offer: a free Nexus 5X for businesses willing to give the service a go.
We chatted this week with Andrew Toy, the product management director of Android for Work. He casts Android as the right operating system for a world that’s quickly transforming from mobile-first to mobile-only.
But Android certainly has some challenges in this area. The iPhone has been a popular choice in the world of BYOD (bring your own device) thanks to its ease of use and substantial footprint. And Android has had some bad press about security, particularly with the Stagefright vulnerability.
But Android’s flexibility, which some have used for nefarious purposes, makes it the right solution in a lot of use cases, according to Toy. From his perspective, Android’s ability to work across different “glowing rectangular screens” like phones, tablets, watches, and TVs gives it the right extendability for business.
The following is our discussion about the state of Android for Work and Google’s goals for the program.
Greenbot: So what’s behind the big media event last week?
Toy: We’ve been working hard to grow the program [Android for Work] and the number of customers who are using it. We’re up to almost 20,000 or so now, but we’re really focused on growing it for our ecosystem partners, because Android for Work is a very big tent.
Android for Work is about helping companies transform themselves and transform the workplace through the use of mobility. That’s what we’re all about. We want people to set the bar really high and aim for that transformational goal. We’re really seeing this as a much bigger market than just everyone’s personal smartphone. We think we’re aiming for 100 percent mobility, 100 percent of workflows. And a big part of that is aiming for different kinds of use cases above and beyond that sort of knowledge-worker BYOD use case.
With Marshmallow, there are new APIs and capabilities around managing devices which are targeted at regulated markets, locking devices down even further with our device owner mode, full control of the device, and our security update program with Nexus devices, which targets that regulated and government market segment.
Something I’m really passionate and excited about, that I think is going to be transformational in the next few years, is a concept called COSU (corporate owned single use) devices.
Greenbot: So, COSU. What is that, and why does it have you so excited?
Toy: It’s been called kiosk mode but that’s just one of the many use cases. It’s the idea that the cloud and applications come together again in a way you’re used to seeing with other dedicated devices.
An example I give is a company where their service is a dashboard, a cloud dashboard, and what they do is aggregate data, and have customers who buy their cloud service. So to show it off, I’ve seen where they put a laptop on a table and open a tab and demonstrate the service through that browser tab.
Now with the new APIs in Marshmallow, they can buy commodity Android devices and say “hey, maybe you want some televisions and tablets that show the dashboard.” All the company has to do is configure the devices to be ready in this kiosk mode and then ship them off to the potential clients. They can take them out of the box and have a ready demo of how the service works. The device configures itself, and connects to the cloud.
It’s commodity hardware, but it’s like they invested in and built their own hardware. I think it’s pretty cool and I see a lot of places where this can be used.
Greenbot: So what makes Android an ideal OS for COSU?
Toy: When you go to the airport and you use a self check-in thing, that’s COSU. Traditionally, IT departments would typically source all of this out and it was completely proprietary. There’s not a lot crowdsourcing of the software, the bugs, so you don’t get a very good experience. The difference now is you’re able to deliver these same things on Android, which has been used by billions of people. You can run off-the-shelf Android and build your app, but it’s way more cost effective. And it delivers a much better experience for the user.
Greenbot: This seems to have some implications for developers, as well.
Toy: Any developer who has an app already can now set it up to run in such a manner. Google can provide manageable screen sizes from the watch all the way up to billboards. It’s a simple but a cool concept. Developers can independently benefit from the fact that you can now do this. So we’re super excited about that. Video conferencing units and practically any screen you can think of can have Android powering what’s behind it. We want to look beyond the existing focus, but we’re telling people you can do so much more and do it right now.
Greenbot: Security is always a big deal, but it gets an brighter light shined on it with enterprise. How will Android at Work address this?
Troy: We have a new security program that rolled out with the Nexus [6P and 5X]. They’re great devices, and we’ve always provided an updated security bulletin, but now you will get that every month. If you go into your Nexus device will see in the settings a new little setting that tells you hey, you’re security patch is all up to date. You know exactly when you’ve had the latest security release.
We’re seeing a ton of momentum in the industry [with regards to security]. Blackberry is also following the same update cadence. Silent Circle already provides that cadence. We’re seeing a lot of good groundswell around that, it is very exciting.
We are taking a more forward leading role in saying hey, this is the bar, this is what a true enterprise level device looks like. We think that’s the great thing about Android, you can have standardization and you can have choice—it’s really poweful.
Greenbot: Is there a specific type of device or form factor businesses have been asking for?
There’s so much choice it can be overwhelming at times. What we really did is say, hey let’s go and help businesses get up and running with a Nexus device and they can start making other choices.
I think you’re going to see a explosion of growth in this area, with devices that are secure and follow the update cadence that we’ve set.
Greenbot: So how well is Android for Work catching on?
Toy: We have several companies and a lot of case studies that we believe show themselves to be very transformational. I’m very excited about those customers and their expanding role with Android for Work.
Greenbot: Android offers a lot of flexibility in regards to its presence across different form factors with Android Wear, TV, Auto, and of course phone/tablet. How does that play a role with enterprise?
Toy: We always believe it’s the right tool for the right job. There might be a place where you want to use an iOS device and that’s fine by us. Do you want to go for 100 percent mobilization at a huge company? Chances are it’s not going to be one tool for everybody. It never is.
Android of course has so many use cases and covers different scenarios. So for customers to get to that 100 percent mobilization, they will want the flexibility of Android, even if they are using other platforms.
Greenbot: Does anything you discover with Android for Work ever spill over to the consumer side? Or vice versa?
Toy: There is a lot of overlap here. The security update plan benefits consumers, even though it’s usually IT that tends to beat down the door on this. But an area of interest for consumers is how parents may only want one app at a time for their kids. You don’t want them going out of a game and deleting your calendar data or do other things around the device.
We often find a place for one underlying technology, like the “pin mode,” that we use in one area and look for other ways that it can be applied. This is of course one example, but there are many ways in which there is a lot of overlap between what Android does for consumers and for business.
Greenbot: Switching gears here: how long have you been an Android user? And what was your first Nexus phone?
I have been an Android user since late 2009. The first Android phone that became my daily driver was the Nexus One.
So what is your current device?
The Galaxy Note 5 is my current device.
What is one, non-Google app you absolutely can’t live without?
I use Evernote a lot. It’s a great one.