Android is one of the most interesting platforms of our time. Whether or not you're a fan of open source computing, it's undeniably true that the open source nature of Android has led it to be installed in now over a billlion smart devices.
On the other hand, Android is fragmented. While some version of the Android operating system runs on over a billion devices, that total is spread among many different versions of Android. This has led to many challenges for hardware manufactuers across the board. Interestingly, Intel, not Google is looking to solve this fragmentation problem and more.
The issue for Intel is that Google first created Android for the ARM architecture, which is very different than Intel's x86 architecture.
Years ago, Intel took the open source code of Android and ported it to x86. Now years later, Intel has developed a robust version of Android for their architecture and since they have done all the heavy lifting themselves, they have been adding some key differentiators.
One area these differentiators could pay off is in the enterprise.
By managing their own version of Android, Intel is looking to address the fragmentation issues for their customers. Device OEMs running Android on Intel silicon will get timely updates to roll out to their customers. Conceivably, this will bring the latest version of Android to all Intel partners at the same time - which is to say, way quicker than what we see when Google rolls out a new version of Android.
A benefit of this will be with security. Google addresses issues with security with each new release. Which is why it is important for the latest version of Android to get rolled out to as many devices as quickly as possible. Intel hopes to make this a reality for their hardware partners.
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Getting aggressive with 64-bit processors
While Intel won't have a monopoly on 64-bit processors or an Android version optimized for 64-bit, they will be aggressive bringing to market both. Intel announced their 64-bit version of Android 4.4 is already available.
I view what Intel can do with Android and 64-bit similarly to what Apple has done with iOS and their own 64-bit ARM core. By controlling the SoC and the software Apple has uniquely differentiated their software for their own unique implementation.
Intel has an opportunity to own their version of Android and tune it specifically for their proprietary x86 solution. 64-bit is a key enabler for more security applications since a 64-bit core's performance shines when it comes to encryption.
While other ARM vendors like Qualcomm will also have 64-bit processors, they are more dependent on Google to make specific optimizations to Android to benefit from 64-bit than Intel is.
(Managing and securing tablet deployments will be a key topic of discusssion at the Tablet Strategy conference on May 6, 2014 in New York. If you are involved in a tablet project, you may be eligible for a free pass. Check conditions that apply on our registration page.)
More secure Android tablets for the enterprise
Intel hopes that these customizations and more help them get an edge in winning hardware customers. Intel's focus for the moment is on tablets and they are hoping that their work on Android continues to be a differentiator and attract OEMs who are looking to target enterprises with unique solutions
Where Intel may focus their efforts with tablet partners is around the low-mid tier. These are the tablets that are more likely getting rolled out in field deployments and companies like Dell and HP are already targeting this segment with low-end Android tablets.
But to really showcase their efforts with Android, Intel is going to need a big win with a customer like Samsung who has the resources to drive such product into the mainstream enterprise and consumer sectors.
Unlike Kindle Fire tablets that use a derivative of Android, Intel tablets have access to Google Play and many standard Android apps work with little to minor modifications for the x86 version of Android.
While there isn’t much compatibility directly between Android on ARM and Android on x86 from a software standpoint, there is compatibility from a services standpoint. Since most enterprises are using cloud services and the apps on devices like smartphones and tablets are front ends to those cloud services, compatibility is less of an issue.
The bottom line is that Intel's push to better secure Android is good news for the enterprise.
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