What IT pros need to know about Android 4.3

Credit: flickr photo by beej55

Most of the coverage regarding Google's Android-Chrome event in San Francisco Wednesday has focused on the introduction of new Nexus 7 tablet and Chromecast. Understandable, since the seven-inch tablet and TV device were demonstrated from the stage during a live-streamed event. 

It's also understandable because Google's updated mobile OS -- Android 4.3 -- is not the long-awaited Key Lime Pie (which few were realistically expecting to see Wednesday). It's just another version of Jelly Bean, and includes only a few changes.

Some of those changes, however, are worth the attention of enterprise professionals, especially those IT pros concerned about Android security.

Restricted user profiles

Perhaps the biggest enhancement to Android with the release of 4.3 is the addition of restricted user profiles. This feature allows an Android owner who shares his or her device with others to control the usage of applications and other content. The profile restrictions are a logical and often-requested extension of the multiple user profiles available since 4.2.2.

In an enterprise setting, this feature might be useful for a field team supervisor who shares a tablet with other workers. But the controls are set at the user level, so IT's ability to implement this feature is reduced to urging device owners to deploy it. And for now, anyway, multiple profiles are not available on iPads.

Security-enhanced Linux

The new version of Jelly Bean includes an extension called SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux), a modification to the kernel that allows detailed mandatory access control policies.

While Android always has used a "sandbox" framework for running apps to protect against password and data theft, SELinux allows users to set a "trust level" for individual apps and define the types of data that an application can access.

Interestingly, SELinux was initially developed by the National Security Agency and became part of the Linux kernel in August 2003, yet is just now being added to Android.

"Master Key" vulnerability patch

Early this month a security vendor revealed that a vulnerability that has existed since Android 1.6 could allow hackers to turn "any legitimate application into a malicious Trojan, completely unnoticed by the app store, the phone, or the end user."

Even though Google was notified of this "Master Key" vulnerability back in February, it only recently began issuing patches. But the fix for this flaw in Android is included in 4.3, so owners of devices running the new version of Jelly Bean won't be among the 99% potentially affected by Master Key.

Better battery life

Enterprise IT pros probably won't care about this, but Android owners sure will. Early testers of Android 4.3 report that their device batteries were lasting much longer. One reviewer reported a jump in battery life to more than 24 hours from four to six hours running Android 4.2 -- a 4 to 5x improvement. Among the possible reasons for this extended battery life:

  • Smart App Updates -- Ensures that only the parts of an application which have changed will be downloaded when you next update it.
  • Support for Bluetooth Smart technology -- This enables a 4.3-powered device to connect with power-efficient accessories that use Bluetooth Smart.
  • Wi-Fi Scan Only Mode -- A feature (which must be enabled) that uses Google apps such as location services to search for networks, thus saving a device from the battery drain caused by continuous Wi-Fi use.

All in all, Android 4.3 is a solid improvement that users and IT departments alike should welcome. But it may be a slow trickle into the workplace.

At its event yesterday, Google promised to update older Nexus devices -- the first Nexus 7 tablet, Nexus 10 tablet, and Nexus 4 phone -- to the new OS in short order, as well as the Google Play versions of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One. No word on when other Android devices will get it, though.

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