Wanted: Android Apps for the Enterprise

Analysis: Google paid $25,000 each to 50 programming teams to build apps that aren't relevant to the enterprise. What's next?

Google is basking in the glow of what it deemed a successful Android Developer Challenge, a program looking to build out the mobile operating system that received 1,788 submissions.

Anxious to facilitate the rapid adoption of applications for Android as Google competes with rivals Yahoo and Microsoft in the mobile market, the search giant on May 12 awarded $25,000 to the programmers who created the 50 best applications.

Programmers leveraged the mapping and social networking capabilities of Android to create applications similar to the applications created after Facebook opened up its platform in May 2007, allowing friends to share photos, music, and content about shows, vacations and restaurants as they relate to certain locales.

So, what exactly did programmers do to augment Android? The applications range from frivolous to useful to cool, going by the descriptions of them on the Phandroid blog.

The frivolous: Cooking Capsules lets users watch a very short cooking show from their phones, shop with its grocery list and receive recipe directions.

The useful: PedNav, a personal assistant app that helps users "plan ... activities efficiently when moving around and interacting with an urban environment."

The cool: BioWallet is "a biometric authentication system for Android" that "features iris recognition and can act as a password safe and provide single sign-on for other Android apps." Very "Blade Runner"-esque!

In announcing the winners, Google Android Mobile Platform developer Eric Chu noted, "The real winners, however, are the consumers who will benefit from the work of these talented developers."

That's a nice spin on the program, but eWEEK wonders when business will benefit from the work of these developers.

These Android applications seem to be a step up from the purely frivolous, with many providing useful utilities for individuals, but at some point, programmers should get serious and begin to solve some business problems or at least improve business practices. Why is it that independent programmers decide how people will play while big companies get to dictate how people work?

Sheep-throwing, zombie-warring, food-fighting applications make for fun instant messaging bait, but surely some quality collaboration or unified communications tools will come out of the Facebook platform and Android as well.

Some of the Android applications mashed up data from the Web with data that exists on the mobile device. For example, one application combined weather, pollen and allergy information in the context of a map that is relevant to a user's location. That could be useful to any consumer or business person with allergies who is traveling. Another application connected people during emergency situations, which is universally useful.

But these still won't help connect people in a business environment the way Google Apps, IBM Lotus Notes or Microsoft Office SharePoint do. If Android is truly an open platform, why don't third-party programmers build applications using existing Google and Android APIs to bolster the enterprise ecosystem?

Another issue to consider: Google is crowing about healthy application development for Android, which has yet to be delivered to the public on any handset.

If someone took the Android applications and put them on LiMo-based handsets (there are 18 or so), the result would be a new mini-ecosystem of mobile Linux devices. As it is, the market may instead be headed for disastrous fragmentation.