With 'Android for Work,' Google hopes you'll use your phone on the job

The tech giant aims to deepen its roots in the workplace with a new initiative and services meant to make IT departments happy.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

Google on Wednesday unveiled Android for Work. Google

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google's Android operating system powers more than 80 percent of the world's smartphones. Now the tech giant wants to help Android owners use their phones in the workplace.

Google on Wednesday launched Android for Work, an initiative that tries to bring Android devices up to par with the needs of employers' information technology departments. Workplaces often have more-stringent requirements, like beefed up security, for devices consumers have.

"More than a billion people are bringing smartphones in their pockets to the workplace," Rajen Sheth, a director of product management at Google, said at a press briefing here.

The initiative comes as consumer tech companies try more aggressively to deepen their enterprise roots. Firms like Google and Apple are also trying to take advantage of consumers taking their own smartphones and tablets to work, a trend the industry calls "BYOD," or "bring your own device." Making sure consumers can use their personal phones and tablets at work means more time on Google services, which leads to more revenue opportunities for the company.

Apple is Google's fiercest competitor as the battlefield shifts to the workplace. Apple in July struck a deal with IBM in which the two companies will collaborate on enterprise apps for iPhones and iPads. Also as part of the deal, IBM's cloud services will be optimized for Apple's iOS mobile operating system, and IBM's 100,000 consultants will push Apple products with corporate clients.

Google's approach is rooted in creating two user profiles for Android owners -- one for their work life and one for their personal life. But the goal was to let those two profiles work seamlessly together, without requiring people to toggle between the two accounts. To do that, each work-centric app has an orange briefcase badge on the icon, and is labeled "Work Mail" or "Work Chrome," referring to Google's Web browser.

The company also created a new version of its Google Play marketplace. The enterprise version of the store lets IT personnel deploy and manage apps, as well as purchase apps in bulk to provide to an entire workforce. Google's partners for the launch include SAP, Citrix, Samsung, Sony, Box and Adobe.

Google has made inroads in the workplace in other ways as well. The company on Monday announced that Inbox, Google's reimagined version of email separate from its popular Gmail service, would slowly begin to support peoples' corporate Gmail accounts.

Google has also made an enterprise push for Google Glass, its Web-connected headset. The company has focused on getting hands-on workers to wear the device to do things like making tacos or fixing plane engines. Google has been working with brands like Taco Bell, Boeing and Hewlett-Packard to test Glass apps. (The company said earlier this year that it was discontinuing the current Google Glass product but would continue to support the Glass at Work initiative.)

For now, the workplace initiative is aimed at smartphones and tablets, but Sheth said the company eventually wants to extend the push to other Android-powered machines, like cash registers or devices for amusement park operations.

"We want to change and redefine the concept of mobility at work," said Sheth.