The Boston startup Optio Labs is developing a version of Android specifically for enterprises. Its operating system is designed to be especially secure; its most interesting capability will be based on contextual awareness, where applications are allowed to run based on their location.
Contextual awareness, a fascinating new area for mobile communications, employs device sensors, location, data mining, and artificial intelligence predictions to provide specific information and perform tasks without being asked. For Optio Labs, that means enabling certain applications and hardware capabilities to run -- or not run -- in specific areas of an enterprise. Its version of Android combines mobile device management techniques with OptiCore, which includes advanced location-based algorithms based on a GhostBox project from Virginia Tech.
In many areas of an enterprise, a phone would operate normally, without restrictions. However, in areas where confidential information is stored, the device might not be allowed to transmit email or SMS or store information on a microSD card or the device. In laboratories where new products are developed (or in gym locker rooms), a phone's camera could be disabled from taking still photos and recording videos.
For extremely security-conscious organizations, data could be automatically deleted after the phone leaves a high-security area if data is allowed on the phone within the area but not in other areas of the enterprise. In addition, the phone could be locked and/or wiped if it's taken outside a city or country. Disabling devices and deleting data aren't new; this type of software has been available for years for enterprises and even consumers. But the integration of context-aware applications is new.
Optio Labs suggests a scenario where "a doctor can walk into a patient's room, automatically receive access to the patient's medical record via proximity authentication, have the medical record secured on the device via OptioCore policies, and then automatically wipe the record from the device when the doctor leaves the room's vicinity."
The company hasn't detailed the specific location technologies that the hardware and applications will use, but several technologies are available. GPS will work outdoors and sometimes indoors. Bluetooth will work indoors, as will Near Field Communication for very short distances. Indoor location is one of the hottest mobile technologies, and many companies are working on developing systems that do everything from pinpointing employees for security purposes to locating shoppers inside stores to transmit coupons.
In conjunction with location, Optio Labs' version of Android will include IT policy software, which is necessary to determine what the phone's hardware and software are allowed to do in specific locations. The company says its software will control more than 1,000 Android features. I assume that, based on the numerous capabilities of phones and the hundreds of thousands of applications available for Android, controlling 1,000 or more features is possible. The software also can block malware.
Optio Labs says it will offer the software to handset manufacturers and systems integrators for commercial products late in 2013. Regardless of whether the company succeeds, the concept of combining contextual awareness with security makes sense. In many fields, contextual awareness will become more important as it continues to evolve.
One well-known example is Google Now, which displays several types of information on an Android phone (with permission) before being asked for it. If a user always searches for New York Yankees scores, Google Now will display those scores automatically. Based on a calendar appointment, Google Now will show a map to the location with directions and the time it will take to drive, take public transportation, or walk there, depending on the user's typical mode of transportation. And it looks as if Google Now is coming to the Chrome OS and Chrome browser.
In the future, I'd like to see software that merges Optio's security-oriented capabilities with Google Now-type contextual awareness to provide enterprise-related data to employees. Perhaps such software could initially display simple information (floor maps and office locations) but evolve into showing data based upon what apps were opened and the location of the device, such as in a manufacturing facility or a customer's office. The possibilities are intriguing.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing