The A-10 Warthog – Useful is Beautiful
Back when it was first introduced in the early 80s, the A-10 Thunderbolt was cited by the Washington Post as the ugliest and slowest jet in the Air Force. Due to its awkward looks, it was giving the name “Warthog” and the name stuck. If you are not familiar with the A-10 it is essentially a giant machine gun the size of a Volkswagen that fires 70 rounds of 7-inch armor-piercing bullets per second, with two engines tacked on, some wings, and a carbon fiber bathtub for the pilot to sit in…. that’s about it.
Over the last 40 years, it has continuously proved itself to be incredibly useful in the role that it was built for (tank killer and close air support of troops on the ground). During the initial Gulf War, the Warthogs destroyed over 4000 ground targets with the loss of only 4 aircraft. The Warthog has continued to operate successfully in campaigns against ISIS and other conflicts all over the globe.
In the early 2000’s, the US Government decided that it was going to replace the A-10 with the next generation “Swiss Army Knife” jet known as the F-35. The F-35 was designed to do everything: Air-to-Air Fighter… check, Bomber… check, Ground Support… check, Can opener… check. Due to the complexity of building a one size fits all multi-role air platform, the program is hundreds of billions over budget and aircraft are just now entering active service roles. As a result of these delays and the uncertainty around the F-35, it was decided in 2016 that the Warthog would continue to remain in service for the foreseeable future.
One of the key lessons I take away from the success of the A-10: designing individual tools to solve a specific key mission can be better and more cost-effective than building a single tool that solves every mission.
We Built Ourselves the Warthog of Android LaunchersOne of the early features that got Android traction in the consumer market was the ability to customize and configure the “Launcher” home screen. The Android Launcher can control the user experience and flow on a given device. It can launch mobile apps, make phone calls and perform other tasks on demand. Most vendors created their own versions of a launcher for their Android devices, you can even install launchers from 3rd parties or other manufacturers on your device. The quote that always stood out to me from Computer World was “A good launcher can make a bad phone tolerable and a great phone phenomenal.”
At BlueFletch, we started implementing Android for enterprise clients in 2012. One of the features we identified as important during our original discovery was an authentication mechanism that could lock down devices, control access to settings, and support multi-user enterprise authentication sources like LDAP/Active Directory. The default Google launcher was designed for a single user and didn’t support any of these capabilities. The other launchers introduced by MDMs and device manufactures didn’t have what we were looking for. We needed a Launcher that was designed specifically for the purpose of supporting shared enterprise rugged devices.
After reviewing all of our options in the market, we decided to build our own Enterprise Launcher. Having over 15 years as a group developing, supporting, and deploying rugged devices & applications in the field across industry verticals, we had a unique perspective on the requirements that would serve as the foundation for BlueFletch’s Enterprise Launcher. The key user stories we initially were seeking to meet were:
- Allow multiple users to authenticate to a shared device
- Present or restrict applications based on a user role
- Control access to system settings to prevent users from changing configurations
- Handle shared application context and support Single Sign-on for enterprise applications
The initial Enterprise Launcher versions we built were well received by our clients. We have continued to refine the experience, features, and performance of the launcher. If you walk into a major retailer in the US and see what looks like a good login experience on a rugged Android device, it is likely the BlueFletch Enterprise Launcher.
What does the BlueFletch Enterprise Launcher have in common with other Android Launchers — and how does it differ?
There are a limited number of options for Android Launchers that can be used on rugged mobile devices. Most of the enterprise launchers are focused on locking down the desktop to a single kiosk app or a set number of apps. Additionally, they can provide some minimal amount of look and feel customization.
The most common we have run across include:
- Zebra EHS – Zebra provides their EHS (enterprise home screen) free with their devices. This tool is designed to lock down the Android device to a single set of apps. You can also configure the background image. There is an admin mode, but no user login and therefore apps are available to be launched anytime a device is picked up. You can read more about configuring EHS here.
- Honeywell Launcher – Honeywell offers a lockdown launcher specifically certified for Android and Windows 10 Honeywell mobile computers. It restricts access to settings, limits access to approved applications, and pairs with Honeywell Enterprise Browser. This is offered from Honeywell’s marketplace, found here.
- VMWare AirWatch Launcher – Airwatch includes a launcher as part of its VMWare Airwatch Workspace One Android licensing. Similar to EHS, this launcher allows you to present a restricted list of applications to users. You can read more about configuring it here.
- SOTI Lockdown – Similar to the AirWatch Launcher, the SOTI MDM lockdown tool can be used to replace the default launcher on an Android device. Read more about configuring the lockdown tool here.
- Android Kiosk Mode – Android supports an out of the box kiosk mode for corporate- owned single-use devices (known as COSU). This launcher can lock a device down to a single app or to a set of apps. Read more about configuring COSU here.
The functionality in the above options is primarily useful for single user devices, but there is a need in the market for a Launcher designed to support multiple users accessing different sets of applications. A good enterprise launcher is not just about the end-user and securing a device. It is also about how to operationalize an organization, provide visibility and build the case for how these devices are adding value to our organization
As you can see from the chart above, the BlueFletch Launcher is made for the enterprise. In addition to the standard security features supported by common launchers, the BlueFletch Enterprise Launcher includes these value-add features:
- Enterprise Single Sign-On – The BlueFletch Enterprise Launcher provides the end-user access to the applications and settings based on their credentials. It also allows them to access applications without having to sign-in to each one, which simplifies the login process significantly. Through single sign-on (SSO) you can tie into your existing Identity Provider (IDP) such as Okta, Office365, Google Auth, and Active Directory/LDAP and users can authenticate by way of face recognition, NFC, badge scanning, or entering a username + password.
- Simple Branding – Companies can easily configure a color pallet and add a logo so that our launcher can fit with their corporate branding. This is a small detail but highlights how much we think about our clients and what we would do if we were in their shoes.
- Notifications…On-premises or cloud – When we started delivering our Enterprise Launcher to clients in 2011 support for notifications on early Zebra rugged devices did not exist. So naturally, we built our own implementation that runs in the cloud or on-premise. Internal applications can now leverage this notification service.
- Application Whitelisting – We take whitelisting applications to the next level. Our Enterprise Launcher has the ability to uninstall applications that are not whitelisted. This prevents bad actors from side-loading applications that are not specifically approved.
- Smart Scan – Configured to recognize certain barcodes to perform specific actions such as scan an item on the launcher to launch item inquiry or looking up a receipt or bill of lading. This configuration can be managed by your MDM.
- Smart Contextual Search – We extend the Android search bar on the launcher home screen to provide an additional layer of efficiency. You can configure the search bar to recognize patterns to make common tasks easier – like typing a phone number, or searching for pallet information to looking up a SKU.
- Enterprise Mobility Management Agnostic – Works with any and all mobile device management solutions such as VMware AirWatch, SOTI MobiControl, IBM MaaS360 and BlueFletch’s Playbook MDM. Every organization is different and some even change MDM solutions from time to time.
- Customizable – Every organization is unique like a snowflake. From the outside looking in, these enterprises look similar but there is a lot of past experience, culture and nuance that informs how an organization operates. We recognize that every organization is different. We are open to adding or modifying the enterprise launcher to meet your needs. We will customize our Enterprise Launcher and share the customized code base with your team’s needs.
Every organization is shaped by its own culture, unique problems, and operational challenges. Some organizations will be able to get by with the basic launchers that are provided by Zebra or VMware AirWatch…and this is a great thing. But if you require more functionality, control and flexibility, then take a look at the BlueFletch Enterprise Launcher.
For more details or to try out our launcher, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Editor’s note: this post was originally published in August 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.