The feds' shift to Android could give it a big business boost, too

Defense contractor General Dynamics links up with Samsung and HTC to make off-the-shelf Android secure

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In progress: The feds' mobile reinvention
Government agencies have been laggards when it comes to mobile deployments. But that may soon change.

Recently, the White House issued pro-BYOD guidelines for federal agencies and directed agencies to make their websites mobile-friendly. Test deployments of iPhones and iPads have been going on for months at many agencies. The iPad is used in Afghanistan battlefields to analyze drone surveillance data and images. What's been missing is Android, whose smartphones outsell iPhones overall but trail far behind in business adoption due to inferior management and security capabilities.

Android may have an advantage in government, especially -- ironically -- in the more security-conscious agencies. That's because Apple has shown no signs of wanting to create special versions for high-security environments, and off-the-shelf mobile management technologies such as those from Good Technology and MobileIron can add only so much to the iOS base. Contractors like Computer Sciences Corp., which provisions the battlefield iPads, has the luxury of knowing the devices are used only on military communication networks and under strict usage rules -- these are not BYOD iPads.

Beyond that, the military is on its own, as the previous provider of smartphones -- Research in Motion -- fades away, with usage of its BlackBerry continuing to plummet. Besides, RIM's new BlackBerry 10 devices and their new management platform may not support the same high-end capabilities as the current BlackBerry and BES platform do.

That leaves Android, which as an open source operating system, can be customized to meet government needs -- and the government is doing just that. Previously, the U.S. Army announced plans to create a hardened Android smartphone for military use. If combined with OK Labs' virtualization technology, soldiers could carry one smartphone with two virtual halves: a personal half and the Army's custom military half that keeps government data secure, personal information separate, and even phone numbers and location information separate -- using a device that works very much like the civilian devices all their friends have. Soldiers, after all, are typically in their 20s, so social networking likely counts among their major pastimes.

GD, by using OK Labs' technology, could offer this same approach to other agencies via special commercial Android smartphones from Samsung and HTC -- even BYOD models that employees would be allowed to bring in themselves. That's a major change from the usual government pattern of designing custom equipment that costs tens or even hundreds of times more than their commercial off-the-shelf equivalents.

It's not all a stretch to see the Android platform, for both smartphones and tablets, becoming the preferred and sometimes standard mobile platform across the government, with iOS allowed only in lower-risk roles -- the reverse of the current Android and iOS roles in business.

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