"Android" and "enterprise" are two words that traditionally haven't gone together. But with Google beefing up its Android for Work initiative -- and getting ready to launch more enterprise-friendly features with the upcoming Android "N" release -- the notion of companies considering Android for employees no longer seems far-fetched.
The truth is Android has been moving in a more business-ready direction for a while. While tales of malware may still spook some system administrators, the realistic threats related to those scares are almost always nonexistent -- and Google has increasingly wised up about providing multiple layers and paths of protection.
Operating system aside, of course, there's also the ecosystem to examine -- the question of whether developers have created enough quality tools to make an Android device useful as a well-rounded mobile productivity gadget. The answer will obviously vary from one company to the next, depending on specific needs, but you can get a general idea of the platform's corporate viability by looking through some of its enterprise-targeted app selections.
Let's dive into it, shall we? Consider the readily available apps from these core categories and whether they'd make a sufficient starter pack for your company's mobile tech requirements:
Email and calendar
This one's easy, right? If your business uses Exchange, Microsoft's own Outlook Android client is the most consistent way to stay connected. It provides a familiar interface for on-the-go access to email, calendar, and even files from OneDrive or other cloud storage providers. It integrates with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. And it'll work on virtually any Android device (so long as it's running 2011's Android 4.0 release or higher -- which any reasonably current device is).
Google's own Gmail and Calendar apps are the standard on Android, meanwhile -- and if you use Google's cloud services or even external POP or IMAP connections, they're where you'll want to start. Google at long last implemented universal Exchange compatibility into Gmail in late April, so its apps are also now viable Outlook alternatives for Exchange-reliant enterprises.
The office suite
You can't have a work-ready mobile device without a decent office suite, and these days, Android has solid options to choose from. Microsoft itself may be embarrassingly late to the party, but its fully featured Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps for Android finally arrived for all devices last summer and are quite good, especially for businesses invested in Microsoft's platform.
Scoring even higher on InfoWorld's latest office suite shootout is the third-party OfficeSuite app, by MobiSystems. Due to its excellent UI and extensive feature set, it's a top choice for anyone who isn't already part of a paid Office 365 subscription. (The only downside is the app's labyrinthian pricing model, which is absurdly convoluted and practically guaranteed to give you a migraine.)
Last but not least, if your mobile productivity needs are relatively basic and your business is committed to Google's cloud, the company's Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps may be good enough to get the job done. The apps' automatic cross-device synchronization and real-time multiuser collaboration are compelling perks, but don't expect to have a full desktop-like set of office suite features at your disposal.
For less intensive note-taking, Microsoft's OneNote app integrates seamlessly with the company's Office 365 OneDrive for Business system. It offers a laundry list of features, including the ability to create multiple notebooks, capture handwritten notes, and search for text captured in images.
Evernote is a popular third-party alternative with a similar set of tools for note capture and organization, while Google Keep is a lighter-weight option for mobile note and list management (with, as you'd expect, the bonus of tidy integration with the rest of the Google app ecosystem).
Team and customer communication
Most popular software for enterprise-level communication is available on Android via the official Google Play Store. Current corporate darling Slack is there and ready to beam your colleagues' incessant chit-chat into the palm of your hand, as is team-talk alternative HipChat. If you're a Cisco-loving business, the firm's Cisco Spark app is ready and waiting to take care of your corporate communication needs.
For on-the-go face-to-face meetings, Cisco WebEx, Skype for Business, and GoToMeeting are all available on Android -- as is, of course, Google's own Hangouts app, which features free audio and video calling between individuals or groups of users.
Industry-specific business management software like Salesforce and Workday are present in the Google Play Store, as are broader project management tools like Trello and the enterprise-friendly Basecamp.
Companies with cavalries of mobile road warriors may want to consider Expensify, which makes it easy as (soon-to-be-expensed) pie to collect receipts on the road; all a user has to do is open the app, snap a photo, and sit back while the software extracts all the pertinent details. The app can even export expense data into a generic format or one catered specifically to a program like Excel, Salesforce, or Microsoft Dynamics.
Enterprises relying on the cloud for file transfers or storage have plenty of options for Android-toting users to deal with data on the go. Microsoft's OneDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox all offer Android apps for uploading, downloading, and manipulating or sharing files from smartphones and other mobile devices.
Android is also unusual -- compared to the more restrictive iOS -- in that it makes it possible for users to easily access a device's full file system, like you could on a computer. A simple file manager like Cabinet Beta allows you to browse your phone's folders, manage locally stored files, and share local data with any available app or destination
VPN and remote connection
Maintaining a secure connection is critical for users conducting business while on Wi-Fi. Cisco's AnyConnect app provides VPN connectivity for enterprises with Cisco relationships, while the Opera Software-owned SurfEasy app offers a simple and secure option for smaller companies that may not have enterprise-level licenses.
For remotely accessing desktop computers from an Android device, meanwhile, Microsoft Remote Desktop and Citrix's GoToMyPC are worthwhile choices to consider. Google's Chrome Remote Desktop may also work for smaller businesses with more basic requirements.
Some robust security protections are baked into Android itself at the system level these days, but enterprises may want to encourage users to take advantage of a few additional tools that can boost the caliber of protection around accounts and devices.
A password management app like LastPass allows people to maintain unique and proper passwords for every site and service they use -- securely, and without having to rely on their own fallible brain-memory -- while a two-factor authentication program like Authy (or the less versatile but equally effective Google Authenticator) lets you create an important second layer of security for critical accounts.
Finally, Google's Android Device Manager is a must-have for any user embracing Android -- enterprise or otherwise. The app lets you remotely locate and ring any devices associated with your Google account and optionally lock them, reset their PINs, or fully wipe and reset them. The service can be accessed from any Android device (even one that isn't your own, like a colleague's) as well as from any desktop computer.
But make sure every device is enrolled in the system and ready to be located before the need arises.
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