Do Android Enterprise and GMS mean the end of differentiation for Android Device and EMM vendors?

After publishing my post regarding tightening the screws on non-GMS devices and gradual move towards all-GMS in the Enterprise, I have received a response, which was very representative of what I was thinking last year, when digesting all the Android Enterprise news [formatting and edit by me]:

AOSP was or still is the major [vendor]  differentiator. With all these Android changes
1) it will be almost no matter what devices will be engaged
2) the role of 3rd party EMMs will go down. Google will be everywhere.
Do you feel it as a positive news?

Before looking any further, please pause and consider, how do you feel about that? Now, read on!

Before AE and latest changes to GMS, such as Play Protect and Managed Play Store, the situation was indeed different:

  • Core Android OS did not support many features and mechanisms that Enterprise needed: rapid deployment, lockdown, remote control/support, silent app management, low-level hardware control, even importing a trusted root certificate was impossible before Android 4.x!
  • Implementing these features meant
    • Hacking Extending AOSP Android. How does this affect the time-to-market for new devices and development costs?
    • Maintaining the hacks extensions after every AOSP feature or security update. Again, how will this affect time to receive those security updates and the $$?
    • Breaking the rules set in Android Compatibility Definition document (CDD) –> failing the Compliance Test Suite (CTS) –> no GMS certification possible.

The latter was not that bad, since most Enterprise customers did not want uncontrolled access to Play Store, and did not need other apps such as GMail anyway (plus, the annoying initial setup wizard, which one could not even skip in the earlier versions). In fact, the subject of getting rid of GMS was very popular in the last few years, indeed. Most customers’ requirements began with “disable the Play Store“.

What we have now is very different:

  • Google Play Protect has made Play Store much more secure than before. With additional features, in fact it is more secure to have GMS on device, that not have it, since many GMS components receive same-day security patches [Samsung users, how long do you want for the next security patch?]. Check this 2017 Android security report for more details.
  • In fact, recent versions of GMS certification mandate monthly updates for at least two years (if I’m not mistaken). I know quite a few AOSP devices that never received any update after 3 months to market.
  • The annoying wizard supports rapid deployment via NFC (M+) and QR codes from start (P+).
  • We have proper enterprise-grade lockdown
  • Managed Play Store made access controllable, manageable and gave a whole new layer of visibility to enterprise admins. Of course, many companies, who offered their own versions of “Enterprise App Store” won’t be happy, unless they had some unique offerings, which they should now be able to build on top of standard, Google-maintained platform to further focus on their own unique advantages vs grinding the basic app distribution code.
  • Finally, and most importantly, up until Android L/M Google did not really care about Enterprise, but now they do, and they listen.

So, how about the aforementioned device and EMM vendors? Absolutely the same logic applies to them!

Instead of developing hacks, wasting lots of resources on maintaining/rewriting/testing them after every update, providing some level of uniformity of such hacks across different devices/OS revisions, they can now build on top of standard, Google-maintained platform to further focus on their own unique advantages: hardware features, extra software (not bloatware please!), CTS-compliant extensions, fast and reliable updates etc.

Basically, instead of grinding the hacks, they can focus on executing their strategy and vision. Now, how do you feel about that?

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