Android MDM Fragmentation: Does It Matter?

Of all the major mobile operating systems, Android provides the least in terms of mobile security and device management. Google has let its customers down

Larry Seltzer, Contributor

April 11, 2013

2 Min Read

Of all the big companies in the Android ecosystem, it's fair to say that Samsung is the only one that takes security seriously, at least in public. Their SAFE and KNOX initiatives create APIs for outside MDM providers to manage the devices. Other Android handset companies have some MDM interfaces, but they don't brag about them the way Samsung does and they've certainly said nothing about extending them into mobile application management as Samsung has with Knox.

Outside of mobile it's assumed that the company that writes the operating system puts security and manageability features into it. For some reason, in the mobile space the standards for these facilities are very low and customers are expected to go to third parties like MobileIron and AirWatch for security solutions. So far, only BlackBerry has delivered on better security through BES 10.

Apple bears much of the blame for our low standards in these markets, but Google has let their customers down even more. At least Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry provide MDM interfaces. Google doesn't even do that. You get nothing for remote manageability with Android generically, and most companies can rely only on Exchange ActiveSync's capabilities. Android on its own has no ability to receive an application push or remote wipe.

Into the vacuum the Android handset manufacturers stepped to create their own MDM interfaces. Samsung has SAFE. LG has their own, as do Motorola, HTC and the others. All of these interfaces are, for reasons I find unconvincing, not publicized, but the handset companies share them with the MDM companies in order to gain access to the MDM companies' customers. Thee same companies get the MDM interfaces from Apple and Microsoft. BlackBerry customers need a BES anyway.

At one level it seems unimportant that the Android MDM interfaces are unstandardized: That's a problem for the MDM companies to deal with, not you the customer. But the lack of standardization and the lack of public interfaces means that customers don't have a straightforward way to compare the MDM capabilities of different handsets.

The lack of standardization, especially a standard coming from Google on all Android devices, means that security will advance slowly across the Android user base.

It's surprising that Google would be so unconcerned with mobile security when they appear to be so interested in mobile computing. BlackBerry is attempting to leapfrog the competition in BES 10, in part by providing better security and device management. It would not take much for Google to leap even further.

Larry Seltzer is the editorial director for BYTE, Dark Reading, and Network Computing.

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Larry Seltzer


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