Enterprise management tools coming to Android

But will new features be free or fee?

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As the world prepares for the next iteration of the iPhone, enterprise IT shops are still contending with popular smartphones' lack of security and management tools that can leave gaping holes in a business' IT infrastructure.

In terms of corporate deployment, RIM's BlackBerry is still the platinum standard for IT teams to manage, an area in which iOS- and Android-devices are considered to be very poor performers. There's a lot of reasons for this: the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is great for local and remote management and security policy implementation. And BlackBerry devices have enough hooks inside that cellular carriers can sell pre-configured devices in bulk to corporate accounts.

This need is still pretty great: while consumers drool over the latest Apple and Android devices, companies like those in the logistics and shipping industries need locked-to-contacts-only push-to-talk smartphones for drivers, traffic agents, and managers. Or high-security facilities need employees with phones that don't have on-board camera functions.

This is a segment that Apple, and even Android, devices have a problem addressing.

On the hardware side, Apple has serious issues. Apple's look-but-don't touch policy means carriers and end-user IT departments can't get in the guts of the devices and turn off cameras or otherwise pre-configure the devices to adhere to the security policies of the client company.

Android devices are a little better for this, given that Android is open source. But carriers still have to deal with the cell phone manufacturers who are still reluctant to let just anybody into all the "secret sauce" they add to their Android phones. Carriers need this access so they can configure smartphones to their corporate customer's needs, and manufacturers like HTC and Samsung have come around to this way of thinking, but its still a bumpy relationship.

For all its closed-mindedness for device configuration, Apple is still better than Android in the area of enterprise management of smartphones' application layer. As far back as June 2010, Apple has had enterprise management tools in iOS 4, which--like BlackBerry Enterprise Server--lets IT departments manage devices based on security policies and provisioning requirements.

Android, on the other hand, still lacks basic security and management features in the OS. A lot of corporate IT departments won't let Android devices in to check mail, for instance, because of the lack of encryption on Android.

This may be about to change. According to an InfoWorld report, Android is finally getting the kind of enterprise management features BlackBerry and iOS devices have had for quite a while.

But here's the thing: the new technology comes from 3LM, a company acquired by Motorola Mobility last year. Motorola Mobility, as you may have heard, is about to be acquired by Google. According to InfoWorld's Galen Gruman, Google isn't planning on making these management features a universal Android component.

"These security and management capabilities will not be baked into the standard Android OS. Instead, device makers, including Motorola Mobility, will need to license the technology from 3LM--that is, pay to use it."

If that's the case, then Google is going to add a lot of confusion to the Android market. As Gruman points out, it will be hard for IT departments to know which Android devices will have the 3LM technology license and which won't.

It is not clear if Google will keep this separately licensed model for enterprise management software in place after they assimilate 3LM. Hopefully it won't, because carriers don't need yet-another-reason to resent Google. Google has made a great deal of Android being open source. By charging a license fee for enterprise management tools, Google would essentially shift Android to an open core business model: where customers can use a free, feature-limited version of the open source software, but then have to pay extra for other features.

You can imagine how well that will go over in the Android community, and amongst device makers who already see Google's purchase of Motorola Mobility as a way for Google to screw them over.

For what's it worth, I think Google will make this technology freely available as a universal Android feature.

While others may argue that Google might use this as a way to make money on Android, they're forgetting that giving Android away is part of the whole plan. If Android is ubiquitous, then Google's services and its advertising are ubiquitous. To date, Google is not in business to sell software… it's in the business to sell advertising. I see no reason for that to change now.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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