When Android L arrives later this year, it may put an end to the days of carrying separate devices for work and leisure. The mobile platform now boasts the ability to separate data on a single handset or tablet.
How It's Been Done, So Far:
Historically, there've been five ways to access your business and personal accounts without having to carry two phones:
1. Virtual Machines
Created by software your employer installs on your personal phone. Mobile Device Management (MDM) software like Microsoft's System Centre can control settings on your phone, making sure your security set-up is safe for work.
Virtual machine software like VMware’s MVP permits a phone to maintain a separate business environment with its own apps and settings, distinct from personal data. A phone within a phone.
2. Remote Desktops
Similar to a virtual machine, there are apps (e.g. LogMeIn Ignition on Android) that let a smartphone have access to a Mac or PC. You can see and control programs running on the faraway computer.
3. Proxy Accounts
With forwarding and filters, you can automatically forward messages from your work email to a specific folder or label in your personal account.
This can also be done on calendars, and even with Google Voice to forward calls from one of your phone numbers to another.
4. Multiple Accounts
Android phones don’t provide multiple profiles, but they do allow syncing with multiple Google accounts. The Calendar app uses this to display multiple calendars, on the same screen. Gmail does something similar, but keeps data from accounts separate, allowing you to switch between them.
5. Multiple Apps
This is common for email, where you might use Gmail or Yahoo mobile apps for personal mail, and an Email app employing Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync for access to your company's Exchange server.
Google: Recent Developments
At Google I/O 2014, a new initiative was unveiled, intended to help enterprise and corporate customers deploy devices to employees with minimum hassle:
· Dubbed Android for Work, there's an update to Android L, allowing a more seamless user experience for home and work applications. A separate app is planned to provide similar functionality on older devices.
· For developers, a set of new APIs will require no modification to existing apps, work with bulk deployments, and take advantage of Samsung's KNOX platform to maintain full security for sensitive corporate data.
· Google Drive is being augmented with Drive for Work, an unlimited storage option featuring encrypted data priced at $10 (about UK£6, AU$11) per user per month.
· Native editing support has been introduced for Microsoft Office, meaning no more format conversion when going from Word to Docs.
The Android Way
Android Work is founded on KNOX, which includes a robust set of enterprise features, with powerful tools for separating personal and business content on a device and for securing business apps and content.
There are other key components, which Google hinted at, but didn't provided full details for:
1. Seamless transition between personal and work data
The Android Work container will encrypt and secure business data and restrict what users can do with it, but won't appear as a separate workspace. Apps will have an Android Work badge added any time a user encounters them (on a home screen, in a list of notifications, etc.). This tagging will make it very clear which apps are business and which are personal.
2. Deployment, updating, and management of apps
Google is developing its own volume distribution mechanism. Organisations can make bulk purchases through Google Play, and roll out enterprise apps developed for internal use. IT will be able to push updates to ensure everyone is working with the most recent version.
3. Device Policy Client and profiles
The new Device Policy Client (DPC) app is employed to create work profiles that can be managed by IT. A profile is used to establish the container on an Android device. On personal devices, a work profile can only be created after a user has been authenticated using enterprise credentials provided by IT.
Google will run an Android Work certification programme, which already has the support of major manufacturers. Rather than suggesting specific devices, IT leaders can make a blanket statement that any device bearing the certification name or logo will be supported.
This also gives users with older devices an opportunity to upgrade, with or without a company subsidising the cost of newer devices.
5. Kill switch
Android L will be the first version to support Factory Reset Protection - a kill switch that prevents lost or stolen devices from being used.
Work, for You?
Android Work addresses some core concerns of enterprise IT, like separation of business and personal content, mass deployment of mobile apps, a single set of EMM policies across Android L devices, and policy models appropriate to BYOD and corporate-owned devices.
Questions remain, about devices that people already own. We don't know which Android devices will be able to update, and when this might occur. Google has indicated that some Android Work capabilities may be available to devices running older versions of Android, but the company hasn't provided any details.
For organisations that haven't gone Android yet, it may be better to wait until Android L devices become more widespread.