For IT bosses, the year 2012 will be one of huge opportunity and incredible risk as Android phones and tablets drive deeper into the enterprise, mobile device experts say. CIOs will be in a bit of a bind with employees pressuring IT to support newfangled consumer devices that may not be enterprise-ready.
First, the opportunity.
Android rocketing to the enterprise
The big reason employees want Android devices, iPhones and particularly iPads is because they know they can do their jobs better with them. Smart CIOs will cut through the confusion and see the iPad for what it is: an opportunity to break out of the technical trappings that have isolated IT from the business side for decades.
"Some of the best of us will say good riddance" to the old ways, Aaron Freimark, IT director at Apple services firm Tekserve, which helps Fortune 1000 companies adopt the iPad, told me recently. "Now we're able to concentrate on having people be productive with technology."
Android devices are following the same rocket trajectory to the enterprise as the iPhone. Mobile device management vendor MobileIron claims it has gained 1,000 new enterprise customers in the last 10 months. At least 50% of MobileIron's customer base is deploying Android devices, mostly in pilot programmes. (Today, Apple claims nine out of 10 Fortune 400 companies are deploying or testing iPhones and iPads.)
"As companies prep for 2012, we're expecting increased pressure to adopt Android," says Ojas Rege, vice president of products at MobileIron. "There will be a spike of Android devices coming to the enterprise after the holidays and a spike in the second half of the year as more devices are upgraded."
That is, fired-up Android owners will help push Android devices currently in pilot stage to large-scale enterprise deployment next year. All of which begs the question: Are Android devices ready?
Story of 2011: Mobile malware
The openness of the Android platform, along with the many flavors of the OS, hardware devices, and carrier configurations, come together to create a rich breeding ground for malware - despite claims to the contrary by Chris DiBona, Google's open-source programs manager. Trend Micro, for instance, reported a whopping 1,410% increase in the number of Android threats from January to July this year.
"Google's Android OS has become a malware magnet," writes blogger Constantine von Hoffman. "Its dominance as a smartphone platform is turning it into a much bigger security risk compared to Apple's iPhone."
To be fair, Good Technology CTO Nicko van Someren predicts the iconic Apple iPhone, often heralded as malware-free due to a curated App Store, will also be a target of sophisticated attacks in the coming year. He cites the ability to jailbreak the iPhone with a single tap on Jailbreakme.com, thus opening the device to malware.
"The technology Jailbreakme.com makes use of is potentially usable by the bad guys," says van Someren. In other words, malicious code writers may be able to jailbreak iPhones without their owners knowing about it.
Researcher Charlie Miller recently wrote a malicious app that looked like a stock-market monitoring tool and got it past the watchful eyes of the App Store vetting process. The app would connect to his server and allow him to download malware to the iPhone. Thus, Miller showed that malicious apps might already exist in the App Store.
CIOs in a tough spot
Android vendors are working to shore up security problems. "We'll see an increasing number of measures being taken by vendors like Google and phone vendors to lock their systems down and make them less vulnerable to malware," van Someren says.
Yet herein lies the rub. CIOs are bumping up against employees wanting to plug their consumer Android devices into the network, while waiting for vendors to get Android devices as close to enterprise-ready as possible. The lag between these two forces will put CIOs in a tough spot next year.
Just take a look at the $200 Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, which, by many accounts, should have a big holiday season. New Kindle Fire owners will likely want to receive at least corporate email on the device, which runs a customised Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS. As a result, Kindle Fire has the potential of burning up the enterprise.
Consider MobileIron's technical criteria when evaluating devices to support in its mobile device management suite: A device must have the ability to encrypt data, configure email remotely, support password lock and wipe, configure secure connectivity, deploy apps, and establish identity through a certificate.
"Amazon Kindle Fire does none of these things," Rege says.
Most CIOs have taken a conservative approach to Android but may not be able to hold the line much longer. "Whether CIOs like it or not, enterprise data is probably going to make it onto these devices," van Someren says. "Unless you embrace these devices, you're going to find yourself bitten by the fact that you don't have control of the data after the fact."