Remote device management is a complex topic because everyone's exact requirements for a solution are different. This makes choosing a remote device management solution challenging, as there are few resources that reliably explain how those solutions meaningfully differ.
Remote device management key terms
Before we dive into remote device management, let’s start with a few key terms.
- Remote access is the ability to see what’s happening on a device without the option to interact with it. This might also mean access to the file system and content stored on the device.
- Remote control, on the other hand, allows you to see and control the device — we’re talking full control from anywhere; if you can do it in person, you can do it remotely.
While it seems like remote control is the superior of the two, the best tool for you depends on your remote device management needs.
What is remote control?
Remote control can be thought of as an extension of remote access. Instead of just being able to see what’s happening on the device’s screen, you can also take control. For example, if you’re trying to replicate an issue, you can recreate the steps to see what happens — all without physical access to the device. You can also use remote control to transfer files to and from the device, record the screen, retrieve logs, and more.
Esper offers mobile device management that allows you to remotely control Android devices through the console. Since remote control poses more potential security risks, we require all devices to be signed with Esper’s remote control plugin. This is also included in Esper Foundation for Android, making remote viewing and control seamless.
What is remote access?
Remote access generally allows you to see the device’s screen (and everything happening on it) for monitoring purposes (it’s sometimes called “remote viewing”). This is ideal for troubleshooting devices in the field, as it allows you to see what’s happening on the screen as another user interacts with the device. Ergo, you’re able to easily identify user error versus a technical issue.
For example, if a PoS system is having trouble accessing a specific feature or executing a specific command, you can remotely view the display while an onsite employee walks you through what’s happening.
Esper allows you to remote access devices as part of our console, which is easy to set up and use.
What is remote monitoring, and how is it different from remote control or access?
While “monitoring” and “control/access” are similar terms, there’s an important distinction in the way they’re used: “remote monitoring” is almost exclusively used by people who are looking to spy on another Android device.
While there can be legitimate reasons for this, nine times out of ten, it’s to invade another person’s privacy. Most Android “monitoring” tools are designed to track a device’s location, messages, calls, emails, and more. These tools run in the background and stay hidden, making them very hard for the end user to detect – often by design.
Many of these tools are advertised as “free” for use, making them even less trustworthy, and they’re loaded with ads and even potentially malicious code. These kinds of services are not cheap to operate, so “free” is a red flag — they’re making money somewhere. Don’t let it be from selling your data.
While this may seem like an appealing option for keeping an eye on fleet devices, make no mistake here: avoid “Android monitoring” apps at all costs.
Remote access vs remote control vs notification mirroring
Since there’s some crossover between the tools we’ve been talking about, here’s a quick breakdown of the differences between them. Keep in mind that most of these are general features found on most remote viewing/control applications (not Esper-specific ones) — we noted the Esper differences where applicable.
* – This is a separate command, but still part of remote viewing and control on Esper.
** – Technically, you can see notifications while remotely viewing or controlling a device, but this isn’t a key use for either feature.
*** – This is sometimes a feature of remote access tools, but might require command line-based transfer
What is remote device management?
Remote device management refers to the ability to centrally manage and control devices like tablets, kiosks, or POS systems from a remote location — a company office, your WFH setup, or your laptop at a tropical destination. Remote device management software can enable remote configuration, monitoring, application management, and troubleshooting without requiring physical access to the devices. These tasks can be carried out remotely through a centralized management console or platform.
What to look for in a remote device management platform
Here's how to shop for remote device management the right way. First, you should know that MDM (mobile device management) is very likely the solutions category you're shopping. Almost all modern MDM tools are, in effect, remote device management platforms — because they all communicate over the cloud to function.
How much does remote device management cost?
The cost of remote device management tools is usually measured in price per device per month and on average works out to $3 to $9 per device.
These figures are based on actual operational cost, meaning that there is still room for that cost to go much higher in outlier cases. The advertised cost of any given MDM solution is not actually representative of much other than a paper contract value. The real cost to your organization is in the time it takes to set up that solution, deploy new devices, and support existing ones. Your MDM's billed cost is really just the first line item. Advertised MDM pricing can be anywhere from under $1 per device to $8 per device — or more.
Why is there such variation in solution pricing? How can one remote device management product be worth 200%, 300%, or even 1000% the cost of another? Jumping from $3 to $6 per device makes a huge difference in budgeting! This is where being a savvy shopper counts: You know that being penny wise and pound foolish is a risk when selecting any kind of tool. The money you save today could quickly and uncontrollably be outsized by the operational cost of a bad-fit solution in production.
Remote device management tool checklist
When evaluating the true cost of any remote device management solution — including those that pair hardware as part of their offering — you should look at that solution from the twin perspectives of scalability and suitability to purpose. There is no perfect answer to the "true cost" question, but you can tell a lot about how serious a given solution takes your operational costs by comparing features and functionality.
- Remote control: Cost of viewer versus full control, device count limits, time limits, ease of implementation all matter.
- Remote monitoring: Are there telemetry limits? What telemetry is provided?
- Remote debugging: Is remote debugging available? What kind? Can you stream logging?
- Automated deployment: Is there a way to send devices pre-configured directly into the field without expensive kitting?
- Streamlined provisioning: Even if deployment is not automated, does the solution provide a way to speed up the provisioning process? How much? What alternative provisioning options are available?
- Content management: How much content can be placed in your management cloud? How frequently can it be updated?
- Application management: How many apps can be placed in your management cloud? How often can they be updated? How are the updates delivered?
- Application delivery: How are apps delivered? Do you need to provide your own infrastructure? Is Google Mobile Services (GMS) required?
- OTA updates: Is there infrastructure to deliver device OTAs?
- Custom device and firmware support: Does the solution support your hardware and firmware? Can it? How much engineering is needed?
All of these questions have answers that do not neatly fit into a checkbox, and that is precisely what most MDM solution providers are banking on. There are so many ways a given solution may introduce unnecessary difficulty for your given deployment scenario, use case, or ongoing support and troubleshooting needs that it can feel impossible to get a handle on the landscape without intensive and time-consuming piloting initiatives.
However, this checklist gives you a head start: Many of the above features and functions either are not provided or are cost-added extras on top of per device fees. Most of the pricing for these "extras" is not advertised, as they tend to be reserved for high device count customers in the enterprise space, where tools are budgeted at much greater scale.
Cutting to the availability and cost of the features on this checklist (as applicable to your use case!) can give you a sense of how much a given solution actually values your time. If everything is an added extra or something "you don't really need, at least not yet," that's a pretty good sign you're looking at a solution that's just looking to outprice the competition. While no one should pay for functionality they don't "need," MDM solutions tend to be architected in the opposite way: Functionality that is frequently needed to automate, streamline, or support your operations beyond the "basic" MDM featureset is going to cost you. Be a savvy shopper!
Remote device management and MDM tool red flags
When evaluating a remote device management solution's fitness for your use case, there are some potential red flags that should give you pause. Solutions that either explicitly or implicitly meet these descriptions could seriously limit your ability to innovate, or lock you in to a supplier or provider you don't actually want.
- Limited hardware support: If a solution requires you to pick from a highly curated list of approved vendors with no apparent technical limitation that validates such an approach, you may be getting into ecosystem lock-in (and if device prices go up, you may be priced out of your own management solution).
- "All in one" hardware and management: While "device as a service" (DaaS) platforms have their place, they are rarely a substitute for a robust device management solution. When you're buying hardware from your remote management solution, ecosystem lock-in is guaranteed, and the implications for your device strategy are inherently out of your hands: You're living on someone else's hardware lifecycle now. What happens if your current hardware is EOLed early, and you're forced to spend big on upgrades, or worse, drop the solution entirely?
- Vague commitments on remote features: How well does your remote control solution work? Does it work for all devices, or just the ones you specifically validate? What about telemetry? Getting specific on the ability to use platform features with the hardware you want to deploy is crucial, and solutions providers are frequently loathe about building custom compatibility unless you represent a truly huge business opportunity for them.
- Price first, features second: Most remote device management solutions are set up to provide the minimum viable feature set at the lowest possible price to entice customers with "entry level" solutions. These basic solutions rarely meet anyone's device management needs, and the upsell for a la carte options or pricier service tiers happens quickly. Getting you "in the door" on the basis of low cost projections is the idea, because you're paying for something much greater: The cost of your team's time implementing and using a tool. Your real device management budget is human, and that's rarely considered in the shopping process!
- "Dedicated devices" gaps: Dedicated devices require dedicated infrastructure. Typical MDM tools are designed for BYOD and COPU (Corporate Owned, Personal Use) devices that are used much more like traditional smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Dedicated devices are used in radically different ways, and are often much more important to day to day business operations. Most MDM tools simply aren't built to support dedicated device fleets. Can your MDM solution explain how they're a "best fit" for dedicated? We doubt it.
How to choose remote device management tools
If you want resources for MDM or remote device management shopping, you've come to the right place. Here's how to get started, no matter where you are in the process.
- Get yourself up to speed on the terminology and vocabulary of MDM with our introduction to MDM guide.
- Learn how to think about MDM cost — and the cost of building your own alternative — with our MDM pricing and economics primer.
- Then, get started with our MDM device compatibility checklist — you'll learn whether traditional MDM and remote device management tools are a fit for your use case.
- Head to our MDM security checklist to get an understanding of how to gauge remote device management platform security features.
- Finally, download our MDM RFP (Request For Proposal) to send to the MDM and management solutions that pass your initial screening.
Once you've completed the above steps, you'll be well on your way to identifying a remote device management best fit!
Is remote device management safe?
From a trustworthy source (like Esper), remote viewing and remote control are both very safe and secure ways to interact with your devices over the web. Our remote options work over an SSL tunnel, making them incredibly secure. For more, check out our guide here. You may be familiar with remote desktop tools for Android like TeamViewer that offer just remote functionality. A secure device management platform like Esper's enables safe remote access along with a suite of other tools.
Do you need to remotely control Android devices? Get in touch!
Whether you need to remotely access 100 or 10,000 devices, Esper has the platform to do it. Using our secure remote viewer plugin (which we deploy to your devices), you can control devices remotely with our console, and access even more powerful features like Secure Remote ADB using the Esper CLI. Give us a chat today so we can help you take full control of your device fleet — you can even try us out for free.