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How can IT manage Android Things devices in the enterprise?

The Android Things program provides APIs that link atypical Android devices to Android smartphone management tools, so mobile admins must learn to manage Android Things devices.

Recent versions of Google's Android OS support a wider range of devices via the Android Things program's APIs and managing some of the newer devices can seem complicated at first.

Thankfully, the underlying OS is essentially the same on all Android devices, so the EMM platform management and enrollment processes are usually similar for Android Things devices. The challenge for mobile admins is to develop a version of Android -- using the Android SDK and Android Things APIs -- that functions on these dedicated devices.

There are two common approaches that Google recommends to manage Android Things devices: Build a custom version of Android with the Android Things API that can interact with existing enterprise mobility management (EMM) platforms and develop a device policy controller (DPC) app in-house to serve as the bridge between the specialized Android OS and the EMM platform. Of course, IT pros should test these integrations before deploying them across an organization no matter what approach they take.

Mobile admins may have to take responsibility of IoT devices because of their management similarities to mobile devices, so they should know the methods to manage Android Things.

Android Things use cases and management

There are numerous examples of atypical Android devices that present Android Things use cases in the enterprise. IT may have to manage devices such as handheld scanners, refrigerators, printers and a wide array of kiosks for reception check-ins or point of sale.

Some smart appliances won't require day-to-day management, but any Android devices deployed in a commercial setting will require IT to apply some level of controls. Additionally, the lack of a local UI for many of these devices means that they need special consideration for management.

If the Android device has a touchscreen and internet connection, IT can usually enroll it exactly like a smartphone or tablet: by using device policy controller apps.

IT must factor in any sensors available on the device when they manage Android Things devices. If the Android device has a touchscreen and internet connection, IT can usually enroll it exactly like a smartphone or tablet: by using DPC apps.

Alternatively, IT can enroll devices without screens through near field communication (NFC) or barcode scanning. Zebra's scanner devices, for example, even support enrollment using an audio file containing profile information.

IT pros developing Android Things can configure over-the-air updates using tools provided by the Android SDK. These tools allow the IoT and dedicated devices to communicate with Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks or Bluetooth for connectivity with low power consumption.

For IT to effectively manage Android Things devices that are closer to the IoT device category, which typically only have sensors relevant to their singular or limited functions, it requires the use of a command-line tool known as Android Debug Bridge (ADB). ADB provides a command-line interface that IT can use to deploy and debug apps on the device. It also provides a Unix shell for issuing commands.

The Android SDK and the Android Things program include ADB, and they require that IT enables Developer Options and USB Debugging Mode on the device. While IT will usually issue commands via direct USB connection, in some cases IT can establish connections wirelessly. The client or computer issuing the commands can run the Windows, MacOS or Linux desktop OSes.

IT should always configure a dedicated policy to manage Android Things devices. This is a crucial step because not all devices will support the same features. Android Things use cases allow IT to use the program's specialized APIs, but it still leaves IT with fewer APIs to work with compared to typical Android devices. If mobile admins apply a policy designed for phones and tablets, it will not necessarily yield the same management results.

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