What is Android MDM? A guide to Mobile Device Management
Android Mobile Device Management, or Android MDM, is the software that enables businesses (and their IT teams) to monitor and manage Android devices remotely. If your business utilizes Android devices in its operations, you’re likely familiar with the need for remote visibility and control into them.
What is Android MDM?
Android MDM and Mobile Device Management are in the same family of tools and services. Mobile Device Management (MDM) alone refers to management of any mobile device, while Android MDM refers to management of Android mobile devices specifically. Do you have a group of Android devices to manage? Then you need Android MDM, at the very least. But if you need to lock down your Android devices to a single app, disable hardware buttons, or force the screen to stay on forever? Then you probably need more than what Android MDM solutions offer.
First, let’s establish some definitions: What do we mean when we say “Android device?” Aren’t all Android devices the same? The answer is absolutely not! For example, it’s critical to know if your Android device is running Google Android (GMS Android), or if it running AOSP (without GMS). If these terms are new to you, check out our guide on GMS vs non-GMS Android.
Which Android devices can you manage with an Android MDM platform?
Android is a flexible operating system that can be used on many different form factors, such as:
- Point of sale (POS) devices
- Interactive signage
- Handheld scanners
- And many more
How do I buy an Android MDM solution?
Android MDM solutions are widely available online, but Android MDM is actually quite challenging to shop for. The type of device you wish to deploy and manage will greatly impact the usability and applicability of any Android MDM tool.
Dedicated devices like Android kiosks, point of sale systems (and mPOS systems), and others require more sophisticated tools for management than traditional Android MDM (Mobile Device Management) solutions are capable of providing. Always-on remote control, on-demand app and content deployment automation tools, and live device telemetry and monitoring are more than most MDMs can handle.
If your mobile device management needs are complex, there are key considerations you must make before deciding on a mobile device management solution, and reasons you may want to go beyond a basic Android MDM solution.
Android MDM pricing
According to research conducted by Oxford Economics and Samsung, Android MDM solutions cost between $3.25 and $9 per device, per month. That means managing a fleet of 100 devices could cost anywhere from $3900 to $10800 per year with Android MDM.
However, the cost of Android MDM is a complex topic, and we encourage you to read more in our guide about MDM cost.
Android MDM features
Android device management platforms have advanced well beyond their original basic functionality of managing smartphones that employees would use for work. As the way businesses capitalize on the flexibility of the Android operating system has evolved, so to has the need for Android MDM features that can enable remote management from anywhere in the world. If you’re shopping for an Android MDM platform, features you’ll want to look for include:
- Kiosk mode: With tens, hundreds, or thousands of devices out in the wild, you want to ensure that those devices are locked to only the app or apps you choose, and that users can’t get around those apps and use your company devices for other things. Kiosk mode for Android enables this type of lockdown.
- Remote control: The ability to remote access into Android devices means IT teams can troubleshoot or update devices in any location. Remote control in an Android MDM solution is like having a full remote desktop tool for your devices.
- Provisioning options: Configuring new devices can be one of the most time consuming parts of device management. An Android MDM platform that offers multiple provisioning options allows you to select the one that’s best — and fastest — for your business.
- Telemetry data & alerts: Knowing the status of all devices at all times means peace of mind that your devices are running smoothly for your business. Setting up alerts for when something changes enables proactive troubleshooting to fix any issues quickly.
- Device grouping & staged rollouts: If you’re managing a large fleet of devices, you likely have groups of devices that need different updates at different times. The ability to group and organize devices in the MDM console and then rollout updates in stages based on custom rules gives you the control you need.
Android MDM limitations and drawbacks
Android MDM solutions that were originally designed for the BYOD use case are very limited in several key respects. However, deployment of devices and updating applications and content on those devices is a key weakness of traditional Android MDM solutions.
If you need to update specific groups of devices, with specific software builds for particular tagged hardware targets, or inside a specific timeframe (on a regular schedule), no traditional Android MDM solution is going to give you the tools to do this. Even the Google Play Store (for GMS devices) isn’t a great fit if you need this level of precision and reliability when deploying software updates to devices.
Consumer Android devices from Samsung and Google receive monthly firmware updates with security fixes, quarterly maintenance releases, and annual OS upgrades. Applications update seamlessly in the background, with the user rarely the wiser. Achieving similar results on a dedicated Android or AOSP device like a stationary kiosk, though, presents major challenges.
If you want to repeatably and reliably update the software on a retail store kiosk, you’ll need a distribution platform and infrastructure to manage it (a cloud). Esper’s full stack management for kiosks and other devices can open brand new avenues for efficiency (OpEx reduction) and innovation.
Android MDM: GMS vs AOSP explained
If you’re shopping for an Android management solution, you’ve likely become familiar in passing with the terms “GMS” and “AOSP.” Here are some helpful ways to understand the differences between Android management for a GMS device with Android MDM and managing an AOSP device with Android MDM.
|Android management features||Android MDM with GMS device||Android MDM with AOSP device|
|App store||Google Play Store||None|
|Firmware updates||OEM managed (no user control)||None / Limited|
|Push notifications||Google Firebase||None|
|Location services||Google Play Services for location||None|
|Security patches||Google security patches (from OEM)||None|
|Content cloud||Not included||None / Limited|
|App delivery infrastructure||Google Play Store||None / Limited|
|Web app platform||Google Chrome||None / Limited|
The above table would rightly give you pause: Why would you ever go with AOSP? For example, if you’re building your own custom device, you’ve likely investigated whether you should how easy it would be to just become GMS certified and roll with Google’s Play ecosystem and tools. For some companies, this is the best way to get there. If your timeline for certification isn’t tight, and if the Play Store is going to provide a major content value add to your device, Google has a path for you. But if your device is unusual in some way, or otherwise not cut in the cloth of a typical Android smartphone, you may start hitting some pretty big snags.
This post provides a thorough overview of how to think about building a GMS versus non-GMS Android device, which involves passing some extremely rigorous automated test suites. You can also check out Google’s CDD (Compatibility Definition Document). Consider it the ever-evolving sacred stone tablet that defines just what a “true” Android device is and will be, often forecasting changes years into the future. (Hey, nobody said building a multi-billion device ecosystem wouldn’t result in some seriously hefty documentation.)
If you want the skinny on GMS’s drawbacks in a sentence? With GMS, you’re on Google’s timeline and must meet their definition of what “Android” really means, and that costs money. You’re also building to a consumer grade device experience that may be a poor fit for your use case.
Android management solutions for AOSP devices
When you talk about “non-GMS” Android devices, you’re talking about devices running “AOSP.” The Android Open Source Project (known as AOSP) is the fully open source version of the Android OS, and it underpins more devices in more scenarios than it’s likely reasonable to list in a single place.
Manufacturers can utilize the open source code Google publishes as part of AOSP to assemble an OS, and Google has no control over these AOSP devices. But because AOSP devices don’t have Google’s mobile services and applications, they don’t have the cloud APIs and support infrastructure to enable OTA application updates and firmware over the air (FOTA) updates — and this is where major Android management challenges can begin.
But AOSP can also enable huge opportunities, as the platform offers a huge library of APIs and supporting documentation, a ready-made UI, basic stock applications, and cross-platform development tools.
Designed to receive FOTA upgrades in place (with minimal disruption using features like A/B system partitioning), AOSP can let you build devices that can meaningfully improve and iterate in the field with software and firmware innovations that are fully under your control.
Traditional Android MDM is designed for Android GMS devices. These solutions were never built to do the kinds of things Google does for consumer Android products (deliver app updates, new content, firmware updates) because Android with GMS already provides these functions. But if you’re running AOSP Android, you’re now missing tools that a full stack Android management partner like Esper can provide (for example, FOTA).
Android MDM alternatives
Traditional MDM for Android won’t meet the needs of many devices and businesses. But you need to understand why.
Looked at from the lens of traditional Android MDM fleet management, app updates and firmware OTAs are afterthoughts — but these may be revenue critical tools for your business’s point of sale, kiosk, or MedTech devices on a daily or even hourly basis.
Once you’ve accepted the limitations of MDM for Android, it’s easy to brush off other solutions as unlikely to add significant value. But if you added up all the hours you and your developers spent troubleshooting and developing workarounds for your Android MDM instead of building great products, you’d see the math very differently.
Practicing proper fleet management would not only save your business money, it will help you create better products for your customers — and be able to do so faster and with far greater flexibility of scale.
If you’re tired of traditional MDM for Android, you’re ready to take the Esper device management plunge. Come talk to us.
Is Android MDM free?
Free Android MDM is available for very small (<25) device fleets, but scaling a “free” MDM solution is never free. Burdensome setup, enrollment, provisioning, and ongoing troubleshooting can cost thousands of hours.
Are Android MDM and Android Device Manager (Find My Device by Google) the same thing?
Android MDM is a business or enterprise software tool for managing many Android devices. Android Device Manager (formerly, Find My Device by Google) is a tool for consumers to locate their lost Android smartphones, tablets, and wearables.
Does MDM work for Android tablet management?
Yes. Android MDM solutions are capable of managing Android tablets. However, the Android OS version (e.g., Android 9, Android 4.4, Android 7, etc.) will determine if the tablet is compatible with your MDM solution.
Is Android MDM open source?
Android MDM solutions are generally not open source, though open source MDM solutions do exist.
How do I install an Android MDM app?
Modern Android MDM solutions will automatically install the Android MDM app upon enrollment of a device (at setup). No visiting the app store (Play Store) is necessary.