VMware tackles Android fragmentation with Verizon-backed dual persona solution

Everyone knows Android fragmentation is a monumental headache, including Google (NASDAQ:GOOG): During a fireside chat at the company's recent I/O developer conference, members of the Android engineering team said they are working diligently to ensure that mobile operating system updates are rolled out in a more efficient manner, a move to make the ecosystem more cohesive. "[Fragmentation] is something we think about a lot," said Dave Burke, engineering director for the Android platform. "And we're working internally to streamline the development process and make the software more layered."

Google isn't the only company thinking about Android fragmentation, however. Earlier this month, virtualization and cloud infrastructure solutions giant VMware teamed with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) to launch Horizon Mobile, a dual persona solution that promises to standardize the Android user experience across multiple devices. The cloud-based virtualized OS runs a corporate workspace controlled and managed by the user's IT staff, enabling employees to securely access both professional and personal applications and data via the same mobile device: Enterprises own and control a single corporate image they can deploy across a variety of Android products, meaning they may deploy any workforce apps they wish without making any modifications to accommodate hardware and software discrepancies.  

VMware Horizon Mobile is available to the firm's 500,000 customers and 55,000 partners via LG Electronics' Intuition and Motorola Mobility's Razr M, with other Android phones to follow. Perpetual licensing starts at $125 per user; the service is also offered free of charge as part of VMware's Horizon Workspace and Horizon Suite packages. FierceDeveloper contributor Jason Ankeny spoke to Srinivas Krishnamurti, VMware's senior director of mobile product management, about the Horizon Mobile rollout, the state of bring-your-own-device adoption and why usability is everything.

Srinivas Krishnamurti

Srinivas Krishnamurti

Srinivas Krishnamurti on the growth of corporate BYOD adoption: BYOD is becoming mainstream. If you look at the last IDC survey, something like 67 percent of business customers support BYOD in some way, shape or form. It's well along its way in terms of wide-scale adoption, and people are realizing BYOD is not a bad thing. Now the market is trying to figure out how to embrace it without sacrificing the security of corporate content. They're looking for solutions, and that's the opportunity we're going after.

Fundamentally, how users use devices is changing, so the paradigm of BYOD is changing as well. Back in the old days when BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) was the norm, all people did was email on that device. It was very much a corporate content device--everything about it was related to work. But with the introduction of the iPhone, people started buying devices on their own, using it in their personal life and bringing it to work.

No matter who buys the device now, people will have personal content and corporate stuff on it. That changes how IT departments think about security.  

Krishnamurti on Android fragmentation: If you look at Android market share worldwide, it's two or three times that of iOS. But in the enterprise space, Android adoption is very small. There are very few people going from BlackBerry to Android--they're all going to iOS. That's because the perception is that Android is not as secure as it needs to be. People are also very concerned about fragmentation. The implication from an IT and support standpoint is that every device looks different and has different capabilities, and that makes it very hard to support.


The UI highlights email, contacts and the calendar.

We're using virtualization as a way to normalize Android--to make every device look the same and behave the same. We didn't want customers to face this problem, so we took on the onus. [Horizon Mobile] is on two devices now, and there are a ton more coming. If all we did is those two devices, it wouldn't be nearly good enough. But we wanted to get the word out, and we're going to bring it to a broad set of existing devices and new devices. Verizon Wireless is the biggest proponent of Android--if you do anything on Android, that's the superstar partner you want to partner with. Together, we're able to solve problems facing the market.

Krishnamurti on building VMware Horizon Mobile: I spend 30 to 40 percent of my time talking to customers. [With Horizon Mobile], we engaged with customers early on--we handpicked about 20 customers from different verticals, shapes, sizes and regions, gave them test phones and asked for their feedback from both usability and IT standpoints. Our belief is that it's the kiss of death if we don't worry enough about end users and usability on the device.

We spent a lot of time thinking through what happens when users switch their device from the personal side to the corporate side. No matter what, there are three things every single user does: Email, contacts and calendar. So we streamlined the UI to make those three things front and center. That design decision to streamline the interface and make it easy to use generated a lot of positive feedback because it's super-intuitive--you don't have to train people to use it. That was an awesome validation of the decisions we made.

Krishnamurti on expanding VMware Horizon Mobile to other mobile operating systems: iOS is coming soon. It's a completely different platform: If you look at iOS and Android, iOS is not fragmented, and the perception in the enterprise space is that it's secure and ready.

We said 'Look at what we did on Android--if those problems don't exist, there's no point in doing it on iOS.' So we're fine-tuning the solution for problems that our customers are struggling with. There's no fragmentation, so there's no need to normalize. But iOS customers do struggle with data leakage, so we wrap each application within security and policy blankets that define what it can and can't do. These apps become your corporate workspace, and you can't access any apps that aren't wrapped, which prevents data from leaking out. That's the angle we're taking.

Everything we do is based on customer feedback. All of our customers tell us the most important platforms are iOS and Android. BlackBerry 10 is nice, but we don't hear many requests for customer support. We're also tracking Windows Phone 8 closely to determine what happens there.


VMware's corporate workspace is separate from the personal space.

Krishnamurti on the future of BYOD: Mobile is wicked hard right now. Everyone is trying to wrap their heads around the mobile problem. It's one of the top three issues CIOs think about. But over the next 12 to 24 months, it's not going to be quite as hard.

We live in a multi-device world--end-user expectations are changing. People say  'Don't tell me I can't do this because I'm on a Mac or on an iPad.' The ability to provision any app to any device at any time is crucially important in the world we live in. So we're building a management infrastructure that will manage users, not devices. It knows what devices you have, what apps and how to provision them to you. We're taking a more holistic approach where mobile is only one key component of the stack.

Krishnamurti's advice for aspiring mobile developers: Build phenomenally exciting apps from a usability standpoint. Usability has to be front and center. Optimize the product for what you want it to do and create a compelling user experience. That's the bar people use to judge, not the hundreds of features you've included. Don't think of usability as something where you can put lipstick on the pig at the far end of the development cycle.

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