Google Android's enterprise problem

May 17, 2013: 9:23 AM ET

Google's mobile operating system may be getting a boost from -- of all places -- Blackberry.

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FORTUNE -- This week's Google I/O conference in San Francisco was disappointingly light on Android news. And it was especially light on new, enterprise-friendly features for Android devices. Instead, it showed improvements aimed at consumers and education institutions. But while Google may not seem focused on making its mobile operating system more attractive to IT departments, other companies are stepping in to fill the void.

Android devices have majority market share worldwide, but when it comes to the workplace, Apple's (AAPL) iPhones and iPads still rule. That's at least partly due to security and manageability concerns (not to mention the fragmentation, or many different flavors) of Google (GOOG) devices. According to a recent report from McAfee, an Intel (INTC) company, 97% of malware detected on mobile devices were designed to attack Android.

Aside from some incremental improvements, Google hasn't gotten serious about fixing the vulnerabilities in its app store and making its open-source OS more friendly to corporate buyers. Meanwhile, Samsung -- the top seller of devices that run on Android -- has stepped up and added enterprise-ready security features in its own version of the operating system. There's Samsung Safe for Enterprise (SAFE), which provides management tools for IT departments to control and secure devices, and KNOX, which separates users' personal and work data. Not surprisingly, Samsung devices are the only Android phones with a somewhat significant -- though still minor -- presence in the workplace.

MORE: Blackberry is about to give away its last advantage

Earlier this week, VMware (VMW) launched yet another tool for managing Android phones. The new software lets IT administrators set passwords and approve applications

And then there's BlackBerry (BBRY). At its own conference, which also took place this week, the once-leading smartphone maker unveiled an updated version of the BlackBerry Enterprise Service that extends its security features to Android (and Apple's iOS) devices. BlackBerry says this new solution would secure email, calendar, contacts, tasks, memos, browsing, and document editing for rival platforms. It would also allow customers to "app wrap, " separating between corporate applications and personal content and eliminate the need to log in to a virtual private network (VPN) in order to securely transmit or receive data.

"Extending BlackBerry security, device, and application management to iOS and Android frees our customers from the need to invest in multiple device management technologies, giving them an easy and cost-effective upgrade path to a solution that supports their entire mobile environment globally," David Smith, EVP of enterprise mobile computing at BlackBerry said in a release.

Extending to new platforms is a good plan for BlackBerry, whose flailing OS is behind iOS, Android, and now, even Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Phone. Google's OS leads the pack with about 75% of smartphones shipped in the first quarter of this year, according to a recent report from research firm IDC. But even with a whopping 900 million Android device activations to date, Google needs all the help it can get when it comes to the enterprise -- even if it comes from a flailing rival like BlackBerry.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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