Want secure Android devices? They'll cost you

Google's 3LM soon-to-be subsidiary brings iOS-like management to Android, but only to device makers who sign up

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3LM CEO Tom Moss says that most Android device makers have signed up to use the 3LM technology, so he figures that and market pressure will quickly make securable Android devices the norm. He may be right, but many of the device makers in the cellphone space have comfortably offered products of varying quality at different prices for years, without worrying about possible confusion or brand damage. It may be the "smartness" of a smartphone -- of which a big part is its ability to connect to network resources -- means security can't be a variable attribute. However, I'm less convinced the device makers will see it that way, as their costs could go up to add the better chips that support 3LM capabilities such as on-device encryption.

Even if the device makers sell both securable and nonsecurable Android devices, a rash of angry customers who tried to use their smartphones at work only to get an error message from the server may convince the device makers or cellular carriers to label the securable models as business-capable, so customers will know which to buy. I also bet the carriers will charge a higher data-access fee for those models, as they do now if you slip and say you're connecting to Exchange or Lotus Notes email.

As its own company and even as a subsidiary of Motorola Mobility, 3LM naturally would make its technology available only on Android devices whose makers signed up for a license. After all, 3LM was not part of Google and, short of a license to Google, couldn't be a universal Android component. But as 3LM becomes part of Google, that barrier is gone. It stands to reason that Google would make the 3LM technology part and parcel of Android, not a separate deal. If Google really wanted to secure Android in practice, it would do as Apple did and make it Exchange-compatible so smaller businesses can easily adopt Android (large ones will use an MDM too regardless, for other reasons). That means Google loses some MDM revenues or, better, charges all the device makers a license fee to use Android.

If that means moving away from the "Android is free" model, so be it. 3LM's licensing of its technology is already a step in that direction, so why not do it universally and cleanly? After all, why should it be free? Microsoft is pocketing Android license fees, and Oracle is suing Google for Android revenues over an intellectual property dispute. Google should charge for its technology, like everyone else does. After all, most of the companies making Android devices pay Microsoft for Windows Phone licenses, for an OS that has nearly no security or management capabilities.

Perhaps charging for a business-security premium is ultimately the plan, or perhaps the idea is to make security native and broadly accessible as in iOS. As Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility is not final, none of the three companies can commit or comment on what the endgame is. I guess we'll see.

The other open question is what of 3LM's security capabilities will be made native to Android when the "Ice Cream Sandwich" Android 4.0 version comes out later this year; 3LM's Moss said only that 3LM's technology would "complement" whatever Android itself includes and what device makers such as Motorola Mobility offer. That suggests Android 4.0 will continue to be insecure.

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