Android MDM: Android Device Management Explained

David Ruddock
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Android Mobile Device Management, or Android MDM, is the software that enables businesses (and their IT teams) to monitor and manage Android devices remotely. If your business utilizes Android edge devices in its operations, you’re likely familiar with the need for remote visibility and control.

What is Android MDM?

Android MDM and Mobile Device Management are in the same family of tools and services. Mobile Device Management (MDM) alone refers to management of any mobile device, while Android MDM refers to management of Android mobile devices specifically. Do you have a group of Android devices to manage? Then you need Android MDM, at the very least. But if you need to lock down your Android devices to a single app, disable hardware buttons, or force the screen to stay on forever? Then you need a more advanced solution that offers mobile device management for company-managed devices.

First, let's establish some definitions: What do we mean when we say "Android device?" Aren't all Android devices the same? The answer is absolutely not! For example, it's critical to know if your Android device is running Google Android (GMS Android) or if it running AOSP (without GMS). If these terms are new to you, check out our guide on GMS vs non-GMS Android.

Which Android Devices Can You Manage with an Android MDM Platform?

Android is a versatile operating system that can be tailored to run on a variety of hardware, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the things you can build with Android are merely limited to your imagination. On the other hand, that makes managing these devices incredibly complex, so choosing the right Android MDM is absolutely crucial. 

Some examples of devices that you can run Android on include: 

  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Kiosks
  • Point of sale (POS) devices
  • Self-checkout devices
  • Interactive signage
  • Handheld scanners
  • IoT edge devices
  • And many more

While tablets and smartphones can be fairly straightforward to manage, it also depends on how you’re using them. The needs of BYOD (bring your own device) companies vary dramatically from those that use these types of devices for business-critical activities. That’s where dedicated device management comes into play. 

Manage Android Devices with Esper

How Much Does Android MDM Typically Cost?

According to research conducted by Oxford Economics and Samsung, Android MDM solutions cost between $3.25 and $9 per device, per month. That means managing a fleet of 100 devices could cost anywhere from $3900 to $10800 per year with Android MDM.

However, the cost of Android MDM is a complex topic, and we encourage you to read more in our guide about MDM cost.

Download our Free MDM RFP Template

We know that comparing device management solutions can be complex, so we put together an MDM RFP (Request for Proposal) template to help you quickly and easily compare potential MDM providers. In the template, we'll walk you through key considerations about technical requirements, budget, timeline, and more.

MDM RFP Template

What are Common Android MDM Features? 

Android device management platforms have advanced well beyond their original basic functionality of managing smartphones that employees would use for work. As the way businesses capitalize on the flexibility of the Android operating system has evolved, so too has the need for Android MDM features. If you're shopping for an Android MDM platform, features you'll want to look for include:

  • Kiosk mode: With tens, hundreds, or thousands of devices out in the wild, you want to ensure that those devices are locked to only the app or apps you choose, and that users can't get around those apps and use your company devices for other things. Kiosk mode for Android enables this type of lockdown.
  • Remote control: The ability to remote access Android devices means IT teams can troubleshoot or update devices in any location. Remote control in an Android MDM solution is like having a full remote desktop tool (such as TeamViewer) for your devices.
  • Provisioning options: Configuring new devices can be one of the most time-consuming parts of device management. An Android MDM platform that offers multiple provisioning options allows you to select the one that's best — and fastest — for your business.
  • Telemetry data & alerts: Knowing the status of all devices at all times means peace of mind that your devices are running smoothly for your business. Setting up alerts for when something changes enables proactive troubleshooting to fix any issues quickly.
  • Device grouping & staged software rollouts: If you're managing a large fleet of devices, you likely have groups of devices that need different updates at different times. The ability to group and organize devices in the MDM console and then roll out updates in stages based on custom rules gives you the control you need.

Android MDM Limitations and Drawbacks

Android MDM solutions that were originally designed for the BYOD use case are very limited in several key respects. However, deploying new devices and updating apps or content on those devices is a key weakness of many Android MDM solutions.

If you need to update certain devices with specific software builds for particular tagged hardware targets or inside a specific timeframe (on a regular schedule), most Android MDM solutions will leave you wanting. Even the Google Play Store (for GMS devices) isn't a great fit if you need this level of precision and reliability when deploying software updates to devices. If updates (software, apps, or even content) are important to you, finding an Android MDM solution that offers granular control of software and content is important.

If you want to repeatably and reliably update the software on any Android device in your fleet, you’ll need a distribution platform and infrastructure to manage it (a cloud). Esper's full stack management tools and easy to use console can open brand new avenues for efficiency (OpEx reduction) and innovation.

Android MDM: GMS vs AOSP Explained

If you're shopping for an Android management solution, you've likely become familiar with the terms "GMS" and "AOSP." Here are some helpful ways to understand the differences between Android management for a GMS device with Android MDM and managing an AOSP device with Android MDM.

Android management featuresAndroid MDM with GMS deviceAndroid MDM with AOSP device
App storeGoogle Play StoreNone
Firmware updatesOEM managed (no user control)None / Limited
Push notificationsGoogle FirebaseNone
Location servicesGoogle Play Services for locationNone
Security patchesGoogle security patches (from OEM)None
Content cloudNot includedNone / Limited
App delivery infrastructureGoogle Play StoreNone / Limited
Web app platformGoogle ChromeNone / Limited
Device debuggingCrashlyticsNone

The above table would rightly give you pause: Why would you ever go with AOSP? If you're building your own custom device, you've likely investigated how easy it would be to just become GMS certified and roll with Google’s Play ecosystem and tools. For some companies, this is the best way to get there. If your timeline for certification isn’t tight and the Play Store is going to provide a major content value add to your device, Google has a path for you. But if your device is unusual in some way or otherwise not cut in the cloth of a typical Android smartphone, you may start hitting some pretty big snags.

We have an in-depth primer on the key differences between GMS and non-GMS Android devices and what it takes to become GMS certified, which involves passing some extremely rigorous automated test suites. You can also check out Google’s CDD (Compatibility Definition Document). Consider it the ever-evolving sacred stone tablet that defines just what a “true” Android device is and will be, often forecasting changes years into the future. (Hey, nobody said building a multi-billion device ecosystem wouldn’t result in some seriously hefty documentation.)

If you want the skinny on GMS's drawbacks in a sentence? With GMS, you're on Google's timeline and must meet their definition of what "Android" really means, and that costs money. You're also building to a consumer grade device experience that may be a poor fit for your use case.

Android Management Solutions for AOSP Devices

When you talk about "non-GMS" Android devices, you're talking about devices running "AOSP." The Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is the fully open source version of the Android OS, and it underpins more devices in more scenarios than it’s likely reasonable to list in a single place.

Manufacturers can utilize the open source code Google publishes as part of AOSP to assemble an OS, and Google has no control over these AOSP devices. The downside is that AOSP devices don't have Google’s mobile services and applications, so they don't have the cloud APIs and support infrastructure to enable OTA application updates and firmware over the air (FOTA) updates — and this is where major AOSP management challenges begin.

But AOSP can also enable huge opportunities, as the platform offers a huge library of APIs and supporting documentation, a ready-made UI, basic stock applications, and cross-platform development tools.

Designed to receive FOTA upgrades in place (with minimal disruption using features like A/B system partitioning), AOSP can let you build devices that can meaningfully improve your overall device experience. All with the option to iterate in the field with software and firmware innovations that are fully under your control.

Most Android MDM providers are designed for Android GMS devices. These solutions were never built to do the kinds of things Google does for consumer Android products (deliver app updates, new content, firmware updates) because Android with GMS already provides these functions. But if you're running AOSP Android, you're now missing tools that a full stack Android management partner like Esper can provide (for example, FOTA).

Key Considerations When Shopping for Android MDM

It may seem silly to say, but knowing what you’re going to use your devices for is the first step to getting the right Android MDM. If you have a straightforward BYOD scenario, it’s almost impossible to go wrong with most Android MDMs. If your use case is more specific — your devices are revenue-generating or business-critical, for example — that changes things. At that point, it’s much easier to go with the wrong Android MDM. 

The good news is that we have a resource to help. Basically, it’s a 10-question checklist to help you decide what kind of Android MDM is best for you. Each question is weighted toward a specific use-case, so it should help you determine exactly what your needs are and why

If you already have an Android MDM solution that sort-of works, you may have accepted its limitations by developing workarounds. In that case, it’s easy to brush off other solutions as unlikely to add significant value. But if you added up all the hours you and your developers spent troubleshooting and building those workarounds for your Android MDM instead of building great products, you'd see the math very differently.

Practicing proper edge fleet management would not only save your business money, it will help you create better products for your customers — and be able to do so faster and with far greater flexibility at scale.

If you're tired of dealing with a makeshift solution, you're ready to take the Esper Android MDM plunge. Come talk to us.

Next-Gen MDM Software

More MDM Resources: 


Is Android MDM free?

Free Android MDM is available for very small (<25) device fleets, but scaling a "free" MDM solution is never free. Burdensome setup, enrollment, provisioning, and ongoing troubleshooting can cost thousands of hours.

Are Android MDM and Android Device Manager (Find My Device by Google) the same thing?

Android MDM is a business or enterprise software tool for managing many Android devices. Android Device Manager (formerly, Find My Device by Google) is a tool for consumers to locate their lost Android smartphones, tablets, and wearables.

Does MDM work for Android tablet management?

Yes. Android MDM solutions are capable of managing Android tablets. However, the Android OS version (e.g., Android 9, Android 4.4, Android 7, etc.) will determine if the tablet is compatible with your MDM solution.

Is Android MDM open source?

Android MDM solutions are generally not open source, though open source MDM solutions do exist.

How do I install an Android MDM app?

Modern Android MDM solutions will automatically install the Android MDM app upon enrollment of a device (at setup). No visiting the app store (Play Store) is necessary.

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David Ruddock
David Ruddock

David's tech experience runs deep. His tech agnostic approach and general love for technology fueled the 14 years he spent as a technology journalist, where David worked with major brands like Google, Samsung, Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Verizon, and Amazon, reviewed hundreds of products, and broke dozens of exclusive stories. Now he lends that same passion and expertise to Esper's marketing team.

David Ruddock
Learn about Esper mobile device management software for Android and iOS
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Esper is Modern Device Management

For tablets, smartphones, kiosks, point of sale, IoT, and other business-critical edge devices.
MDM Software
Kiosk mode icon as a feature in mobile device management software

Kiosk mode

Hardened device lockdown for all devices (not just kiosks)
App management icon as a feature in mobile device management software

App management

Google Play, Apple App Store, private apps, or a mix of all three
Devices groups icon as a feature in mobile device management software

Device groups

Manage devices individually, in user-defined groups, or all at once
Remote tools icon as a feature in mobile device management software

Remote tools

Monitor, troubleshoot, and update devices without leaving your desk
Touchless provisioning as a feature in mobile device management software

Touchless provisioning

Turn it on and walk away — let your devices provision themselves
Reporting and alerts as a feature in mobile device management software

Reporting and alerts

Custom reports and granular device alerts for managing by exception