You’ve probably heard of the Google Play Store, but what about Managed Google Play? If you’re interested in deploying private enterprise apps or controlling what apps can be downloaded on an Android smartphone, Managed Google Play is a straightforward — though limited — way to get there.

What is Managed Google Play?

Managed Google Play is a private version of Google’s Android app store designed for large organizations to manage and deploy applications and updates to Android device fleets.

If you use Managed Google Play, your company enjoys the security and scalability of the Google Play Store, the single most popular application repository on Earth. There’s no denying the curb appeal, and Managed Google Play does have some compelling features. The ability to sign into a single Google account and deploy Play Store applications and updates across your entire fleet — instead of needing to create accounts for each device — has probably saved countless hours for enterprises.

But, the most important feature for any enterprise managed device is likely going to be the deployment of your organization’s proprietary applications. Rolling out updates without user intervention is a key use case, and Managed Google Play is perfectly capable of executing on that promise, and doing a solid job!

Think of Managed Google Play like a timeshare in Hawaii: if you buy into the big picture, you get a little slice of paradise. In this case, the “big picture” is Google’s Android platform and Google Mobile Services package, and paradise is a private, secure app store for your organization (we won’t judge anyone’s definition of paradise). But that doesn’t make it everyone’s best fit.

Why should you use Managed Google Play for your apps?

Managed Google Play was designed around the typical smartphone or tablet use case. Devices that are general purpose, have lots of apps, and typically don’t require a “locked down” software experience for end users.

Seamless updates to core apps such as Android System WebView, Google Chrome, and Play Services are crucial for a device like a personal smartphone. And like any Android phone with the Play Store, your Managed Google Play devices get these updates. But, you can also use the power of the Play Store to deploy and update your organization’s private enterprise apps — giving you a “private” lane, as it were. You don’t have to worry about content delivery, device permissions, or malware scanning: the Play Store handles it all!

The Play Store even supports staged rollouts, but Google’s tools here for developers are fairly basic. You can target percentages of total users and regions for your app’s update to roll out to, but that only serves to limit your blast radius, rather than tightly define it. You can also take things to the extreme level of granularity with a private app test, but this requires opt-in from the end user of every device you want to target.

But what if you want to roll out an update to a large group of devices you can’t easily reach if something should go wrong, and that your end users have limited ability to troubleshoot? Then you’re probably working in a dedicated device environment — and find the tools above frustratingly incomplete.

What Managed Google Play can’t do

Managed Google Play isn’t designed for deploying software to dedicated device fleets. Whether mobile or in a stationary location, deploying software to a dedicated device is often a sticky proposition, full of potential failure points and edge conditions that the smartphone in your pocket doesn’t regularly encounter. And while Managed Google Play enjoys the many benefits of scale, it lacks the nuance necessary to meet the needs of systems like kiosks, Point of Sale systems, or digital display signage.

If you work in a dedicated device environment, you understand the importance of tightly defined, blast radius-limited testing for software updates. A single failed app update can result in business downtime, reducing revenue and costing your operations team time with remote (or worse: on site) troubleshooting.

Managed Google Play won’t let you target by OS version, device model, or custom tags for testing your app updates. If you’re deploying to a fleet of 10,000 self-ordering restaurant kiosks across the United States, even a staged rollout targeting 1% of devices with Managed Google Play could send your update to hardware that criss-crosses thousands of miles and potentially numerous hardware and firmware revisions. And once you do press “GO” on that rollout, there’s really no way to tell via the Play Store how things are progressing.

You can use an MDM (or EMM) solution to bridge some of these gaps, but those solutions don’t offer the flexibility that a code-driven, fully integrated software deployment stack does. You can see where we’re going.

Is there a better way?

If you’re asking the kinds of questions we are — why can’t I deploy to just my lab devices, or to a group of my stores, or to devices on a certain firmware version, or to devices I’ve personally tagged — you’re onto a lot of the reason Esper exists. We offer our own app deployment solution (no more publishing to the Play Store, unless you want to!) with tons of customization and powerful, code-driven extensibility.

With Esper, deploying apps to your dedicated Android devices in the field is exceptionally granular — for fleets of any shape and size. That’s because with tools like Esper’s Pipelines, you’re able to approach fleet software deployments like you would code in the cloud. You can define your stages, device parameters, and resulting blast radius in an almost limitless set of combinations. Most importantly, you can drive those powerful capabilities with code, automating your deployments to suit your fleet’s particular needs.

If that sounds interesting to you, you should get in touch. Set up a demo with Esper today. (For what it’s worth: Esper also supports Managed Google Play, our customers just tend to prefer our solution!)