Since its unveiling in 2007, the Google Android mobile operating system has become the best selling in the world. Four OS updates later, much of the mobile world remains in the dark with regard to what makes the platform so great. At yesterday's webinar, I made an attempt to string together the lesser-known facts about Android in hopes to give our viewers a chance to better understand of its security, management, and productivity benefits.
If you’d like to access the slides, poll results, or on-demand recording of the webinar, all can be found in this MaaSters Center post.
Naming Operating System ReleasesThe first mystery may come as no mystery at all, but serves as a good a warm up for novice knowers. Each software release Android has had to-date relates to dessert items. What you may not know: each of these names came in alphabetical order, and the first two were unreleased to the public (I wonder what they were--any guesses?). If you ever have a chance to visit Google's headquarters, pay special note to the statues that have been erected to commemorate the release of each software update. To date, Android has released the following updates: Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, and Ice Cream Sandwich. What's up next? Well, we'll just have to see. Until then, it remains a mystery.
Taking Screenshots on an Android DeviceIf you own an Android 4.0 or newer, you can now use the power button in combination with the volume down button to take a screenshot. Some vendors such as Asus have added their own screenshot shortcuts. If you have a pre-4.0 Android device, there is no built-in way. There are however a few workarounds to this inconvenience. There are a few options available on the Android Market, or what is now Google Play, but keep in mind you will have to root your device to make use of them. Alternatively, you can use Google SDK tools, such as droidatscreen.
FragmentationOne of the most spoken about aspects of the Android operating system is fragmentation; the OS is pretty well split across the Android space. Fragmentation has occurred due to variety in the following areas: deployed OS versions, hardware specifications, and vendor/mobile provider customizations. It has earned itself a negative reputation for a few reasons, but on the whole isn't as bad as you'd think. For one, it allows for more flexibility and individuality. It also makes it possible for development of additional features. In a lot of ways, its getting better. The proportion of devices with 2.2.x and above is growing. In fact, more than 60% of Androids are on version 2.3.x. These devices come enabled with built-in security features, which is great from a corporate use standpoint. Earlier versions are falling off the map, so you may begin hearing less complaints about staggered update releases, development drawbacks, and feature inconsistencies as more time goes on.
EncryptionAndroid 3.x and 4.x natively support encryption, which can only be undone by resetting the device. On these OS versions, encryption is hardware-based.
On pre-3.x software versions, vendors such as Motorola and Samsung had encryption built-in. Motorola has made it optional--giving you the power to decide what will and won't be encrypted. Samsung has featured encryption on a few of their smartphone models. Other than vendor-based encryption, a few third-party applications make it possible. TouchDown by NitroDesk for example makes it possible to encrypt email. Your encryption status can be made readable by other security apps.
Sense, Blur, TouchWiz... What?!It's okay if you don't know what these terms mean. If you have a Samsung, Motorola, or HTC device, you may know one or two. Essentially, these names are a way for vendors to show their creativity--to differentiate themselves from one another with their interface. Because Google made Android open source, these vendors took advantage and added their own twist and flavor by making their own interfaces. Samsung created TouchWiz, Motorola made Blur, and HTC featured Sense. If you're Vanilla, it means you dont have a custom interface.
So what do I mean by custom interface? You'll notice differences in a few areas. For one, the homescreen or dock could be different. The way you scroll could be either side to side or up and down. Some interfaces have their own custom applications or widgets, even shortcuts.
What is CyanogenMod?Not sure? This is a custom firmware (ROM) for Android devices. It's only possible because of Androids open source software. Like my earlier mention of 3rd party screensharing apps, you'll need root access to take advantage.
CyanogenMod allows users to choose which apps appear on their device. If yours came with advertisements and applications from a vendor, you can have them removed and replaced with apps of your choosing. You can also change the look of the interface. One of the coolest I've seen mirrored Windows Phone 7, which by no means has a bad look at all. CyanogenMod also makes it possible to test out new software versions that would otherwise be blocked.
Google Reference DevicesEver heard of these? Google Reference Devices were designed to run base Google code, or stock Android ROM. There's a different device for each new software release. Past devices have included the HTC Nexus One (for 2.2), Samsung Nexus S (for 2.3), Motorola Xoom (3.0), and Samsung Galaxy Nexus (4.0). For the most part, Google has remained relatively vendor neutral, demonstrating their softwares' applicability on all devices irrespective of brand.
There are a few benefits that come with owning a reference device. You are the first to get the software, and you can start developing with the new software right away. There's no vendor code or customizations that you have to deal with--you get the pure Android experience on these machines
Timing and Availability LimitationsThere are a multitude of factors that play into timing and availability limitations of the Android OS to existing versions. For one, there's limitation and variation in hardware specifications. Each device has different capabilities, making it all the more difficult to expedite the process. Vendor and or provider customization (as mentioned in previous sections) does tend to slow it down as well.
Android Makes the World Go RoundDid you think Android was solely chained to smartphones and tablets? It's getting spread around in so many ways, soon everything electronic could be Android powered (okay, maybe not everything). In addition to smartphones and laptops, exercise equipment (treadmills, exercise bikes), refrigerators, televisions, and car stereos run on Android. Looking into the future, Google has hopes for Android@Home, which should synchronize all of your electronic home appliances. Your iHome will no longer depend on a direct connection to your device. Instead, it will sync with your phone or computer and get the song information the easy way.
It's a Worker Droid!If you're a BYOD believer, you already know. Androids are being used as business devices, and with more prevalence since the release of Android version 2.0. The open source nature of Android has made it just that much easier to do. Third-party mobile device management (MDM) tools have given IT administrators great control and monitoring of their corporate and employee-owned devices connecting to the corporate network.
Cloud to Device Messaging (C2DM) is one feature that has been taken advantage of in the workplace, available on 2.2 and above. Essentially, this allows the tech administrator to ping the device, and say "hey, come talk to me for a second." The device then heartbeats back in with whatever the administrator requests. Since the release of version 3.0, Android has come with hardware level encryption, making adoption more practical (alleviating privacy and security concerns that come with use of Android devices).
Mobile device management solutions today can manage Androids in a variety of ways, no matter what the management policy calls for. MaaS360 for example gives the administrators mobile application management (MAM) capabilities, giving them the monitoring and enforcement controls they are looking for. If Androids are found to be out of compliance, the admin can then remotely or selectively wipe the device. If your policy calls for passcode enforcement, roaming restrcition, GPS, or BYOD privacy settings, mobile device management is the best means for management on Androids, iPhones, iPads, and other smartphones and tablets.