NRF 2018 Recap: Android’s Popularity Growing

Android is becoming the clear platform of choice among rugged mobile device manufacturers with more than 88% of manufacturers shipping Android-based products today.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr, Rob Bulmahn

One of the prominent themes we covered last year was the Android trend, which has been gaining popularity over the past few years and will gain even more momentum in 2018. One of the big reasons for Android’s rise is Microsoft’s decision to sunset its mobile operating systems, including:

  • Windows Embedded CE 6.0 (June 10, 2018)
  • Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld (June 9, 2019)
  • Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 (January 14, 2020) and
  • Windows 10 Mobile (October 13, 2020).

Within the next couple of years, more than 15 million devices will be reaching their end of support date, which leaves Android, iOS, or something else to fill the gap.

Android is becoming the clear platform of choice among rugged mobile device manufacturers with more than 88% of manufacturers shipping Android-based products today. This trend was further confirmed at the 2018 NRF Big Show in New York City, where I met with dozens of hardware manufacturers all of which talked about their latest Android handheld, printer, tablet, gateway or other form factor.

Android Challenges: Updates, Security, Investment Protection

The obvious message to ISVs is that building software that works on Android is a smart choice. That said, there’s a number of challenges that come with Android, which is the reason so many manufacturers have been hesitant to go all in. First, it’s hard to keep up with all the versions (i.e., flavors) that have been released over the past five years, at the rate of about one major update a year (e.g., KitKat, Lollipop, Marshmallow, Nougat and Oreo). Security is another major concern companies have with adopting Android-based devices. A study conducted in 2016 found that only about half of Android devices were updated with the latest security patch sometime during the year, which was a primary contributor to the QuadRooter attack. A look at one of the most popular manufacturers of Android devices, Samsung, gives further insight into the security challenges. Samsung offers 13 smartphone models sold by multiple carriers, each of which customizes its operating system to different degrees, resulting in more than 1,000 variations of every version of the software.

Topping off the list of Android challenges is the fact that end users expect a five-year lifecycle on their hardware investments. When you look at the Android OS as it exists in the consumer space, the security lifecycle typically ends about 36 months after the latest OS is released.

How ISVs Can Win with Android

The good news for ISVs is that they can play a critical role in solving the aforementioned Android challenges. First, they can partner with and recommend hardware that comes with security and support. A case in point is Zebra, which offers LifeGuard for Android. LifeGuard extends the lifecycle of Zebra Android devices by covering two additional OS releases (three years total), plus two additional years of security patches after that, giving users five years of investment protection.

Another approach ISVs can consider is working with hardware manufacturers that will continue supporting legacy OSs. For example, mobile device manufacturer Janam got its start supporting legacy Symbol devices running Palm OS, which Motorola stopped supporting shortly after it acquired Symbol in 2006. Janam continues to offer legacy operating system support today, including Android and Windows Mobile operating systems that have reached end of support. Of course, the company also supports the latest versions of Android.

The bottom line for ISVs is that solving end-user mobile operating system challenges is a great way to stand out from the competition and build a successful business. Whether you’re working directly with end users and educating them about their options or educating your channel partners about ways they can better serve their customers or prospect, it’s a win-win either way.