Want secure Android devices? They’ll cost you

October 11, 2011 1:15 pm 0 comments




Google’s 3LM soon-to-be subsidiary brings iOS-like management to Android, but only if device vendors pay the licensing fee

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Android smartphones have quickly become popular among consumers, but their reach in business has been stymied by the fundamental lack of security and manageability features in the OS. Thus, 15 months after Apple introduced such capabilities in iOS 4, iPhones became mainstays in many enterprises, while Android is usually disallowed access to basics such as email because it can’t encrypt data at rest or support complex pasword policies. (However, the “Honeycomb” tablet OS version of Android supports these security mechanisms, as do some Android smartpohnes from Motorola Mobility.)

The Android smartphone security gap is about to change. Last year, Motorola Mobility bought a startup called 3LM that was developing the kind of security and management features that the Research in Motion BlackBerry and Microsoft Windows Mobile (but not the newer Windows Phone) platforms have long had, and for which Apple added support in iOS 4. These include complex passwords and other password management policies, on-device encryption, and policy-based management of cameras, Wi-Fi access, and the like. Google is now buying Motorola Mobility and, with it, 3LM.

[ Learn how to manage iPads, iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys, and other mobile devices in InfoWorld's 20-page Mobile Management Deep Dive PDF special report. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

3LM plans to make its technology available soon to mobile device management (MDM) vendors, beginning with BoxTone, to incorporate into their multi-OS MDM tools, so IT has a single pane of glass for managing most mobile devices. BlackBerrys are the exception, as RIM hasn’t opened up the protocols used in its own BlackBerry Enterprise Server MDM tool for use by other vendors.

Security capabilities won’t be universal for Android devices
But there’s a catch: 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.

That’s probably good for Google, which I believe has discovered giving away Android in the original open source “kumbaya” spirit boomeranged, as device makers shipped shoddy, premature Android tablets, muddled the user interface, and let security patches languish for months and months. In the last year, Google has been exercising more control over the Android platform. Perhaps now we’re seeing phase 2 of its new Android strategy: making actual money from it, by selling add-ons such as security to the device manufacturers.

The risk in 3LM’s technology not being baked into Android itself is that the Android market will add a new dimension of fragmentation around security and, thus, business fit. Some Android devices will be securable, but others won’t. That’ll confuse users and confound IT for sure, especially compared to the approach taken by Apple and RIM.

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