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In the CRN Test Center lab, we've examined Android in a variety of devices over the past several months with an eye on how this platform could interact with the enterprise. We were pleasantly surprised by some aspects of the platform, unpleasantly surprised by others, and have come away with a general sense that it's just not there yet for commercial, small-business or government operations.
Android will need to experience a variety of growing pains, including waiting for best-in-breed app developers to rise to the top of the pack in key areas like management and security.
Here are some of the highlights of what we saw in the lab:
Android is different, even if slightly, in just about every device. If you're used to using one template for security practices in a Windows and BlackBerry environment, for example, you'll need more templates than ever with Android. That's because Android on a Dell Streak is different than Android on a Motorola Droid X, and both are different from what you'll find on a ViewSonic ViewPad 10. They differ to accommodate different screen sizes and resolutions, different hardware designs and different market focuses.
Motorola's Droid X, for example, is very friendly to peripherals. It supports miniSD, USB and HDMI, which opens up the platform to a lot of functionality. We were, for example, able to use an off-the-assembly-line mobile scanner from Visioneer to scan documents directly into the Droid X and completely bypass a PC in the process. That's because the Android ecosystem is open and allows flexibility for great peripherals. But, on the other hand, one can envision a day when malicious code on a USB drive infects an Android device and creates all sorts of havoc throughout an unprepared or unsecure network.
A number of Android devices, like the Droid X, provide "hot spot" functionality, meaning the devices can become 3G-based, Wi-Fi hot spots. This is an enormously productive function; however, it comes with the added concern of creating additional security vulnerabilities.
Again, all Android devices are slightly different from others, so determining which devices might have a greater vulnerability in this area might not be so easy and could change over time.
IT road-mapping with Android devices will be a huge test for solution providers and CIOs. Because Android is so fragmented, an app written for Android 2.2 that has been custom-tailored for a Dell device might break badly when ported over to future versions of Android for a Samsung device. If it's an app like Angry Birds, that's no big deal. But if it's a custom-written ERP application, for example, that helps control millions of dollars worth of inventory, it could be more than a little "whoops." On one hand, not deploying smart devices that increase efficiency and productivity could put a business at a competitive disadvantage. But deploying smart devices without a flexible road map that takes Android’s fragmentation into account could mean even worse.