Google Inc.’s Android project could be the start of a much larger enterprise strategy, according to one industry analyst. But before the search engine giant can threaten Microsoft’s enterprise supremacy, most wireless observers agree that the company’s open source OS platform will need to regain support from its development community.
With the first Android-based phone – the HTC Dream – rumoured to be joining the crowded smartphone market later this year, whether or not enterprise users will take notice remains to be seen. But according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at The Enderle Group, big business is exactly the target Google hopes to attract.
“The Android platform is part of Google’s strategy to eventually move against Microsoft in the enterprise,” Enderle said. “Google is coming in with the phone because it’s not a platform that Microsoft currently controls and no vendor has reached a monopoly in the mobile space yet.”
Enderle said the smartphone is trending to be the next laptop computer and an integral part of enterprise communication. “Just like Microsoft rode the change from the mainframe to the PC into the enterprise, Google will look to do the same with the smartphone,” he added.
But other mobile industry watchers, like Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, disagreed with Enderle’s theory that the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant has its sights focused on large organizations.
“Google really needs to focus on the consumer first and we have said publicly that we do not believe Android will be an enterprise candidate,” Dulaney said. “If one of the developers or operators wanted to create an open source profile that’s attractive to the enterprise, however, Google would say ‘go for it.’”
Enderle agreed that Google and its partners will initially target the consumer market with its first batch of handhelds. But, he added, the company will look to create enterprise buzz by following the blueprint set out by RIM and Apple – which had its devices carried into the enterprise by board members and top-level executives.
“With the economic times being hard, it’s difficult to believe that enterprises will be jumping in and buying everybody new phones,” he said. “So, the path that Apple and Google are on, for the most part, is a good one. Go after the consumer market first, and then alter the capability of the phone so it can address enterprise needs.”
Jack Gold, an independent technology analyst based in Northborough, Mass., argued that whether or not Android has any applicability in the enterprise space will rest solely on the willingness of the developer community to create business-focused apps.
“Developers are always looking at where they can make a buck and I know there are enterprise-level developers that want to look at this environment,” he said. “I’ve talked to some developers who have said they are looking at Android because they expect it to be a major player.”
Unfortunately for Google, there has been a vocal contingent within its Android developer community that has expressed some concerns over the search giant’s overly secret behavior with the open source OS. Leading up to last week’s Android software developer kit (SDK) launch, the company has been criticized for restricting access to key development tools and bringing open source principles into question.
Earlier this summer, Google announced that the latest SDK would be released first to the 50 winners of its Android Developer Challenge, a multi-million dollar contest to find the most innovative Android applications. The contest was met with severe criticism from developers, who argued the company was compromising its developer-friendly reputation and not allowing many early adopters the chance to grow the platform.
“No one likes secrecy, especially in the developer community,” Gold said. “Those guys want access to everything and they don’t want Google to be overly controlling.”
Gold added that by keeping Android close to its vest, Google is contradicting the open source principles it’s trying to uphold.
“On one hand they’re trying to do the right thing and create an open mobile platform, and on the other they want to be in control of everything,” he said. “It’s a bit like politics, trying to get the left and the right to vote for you at the same time. It’s going to be a hard thing for Google to pull off.”