3 Reasons Why You Should Keep Ruggedized Android Devices OS Updated

3 Reasons Why You Should Keep Ruggedized Android Devices OS Updated

This article is part of three article series which includes:

Every company deploying mobile computer solutions in the rugged enterprise environment expects device lifecycles to be 3-5 years. Unfortunately, that is not a given in today’s rugged device landscape for the Android™ platform.

Honeywell offers the longest lifecycle in the industry with support through seven Android releases, Android N to Android 13/T *, plus security updates for up to five years after Google’s last patch which is 2030.

Sadly, many companies have purchased ruggedized devices from manufactures where support is based on the date in which they launched the device relying more on backporting/lifecycle extension.  Other companies who Android devices, that are supported for many years, choose not to up-grade their devices when there is a new Android release.

There are three reasons why you should always keep your ruggedized Android devices’ OS up-to-date. New Android versions typically contain

  1. Significant under-the-hood improvements.
  2. Important security and privacy enhancements
  3. Introduce expansions and restrictions to APIs which permit third-party apps to interact with your device and data and perform advanced functions.

What is Google’s best practice for upgrading from one OS to the next?

The Security best practice, backed by Google Android, is to keep device on the latest OS version and maintenance releases.  Android typically supports an OS version for 3 years.  Even during the Google support period, not being on the latest OS version means you don’t have the latest security because MANY security feature-adds that come with a new OS version are not backportable to prior OS versions.

If you’re not upgrading your OS after that, you are at risk.   Other device OEMs promote backporting (applying new OS version patches to an old OS version).  The fact is, backporting to old OS versions is not supported by Google, and by definition is less secure by not being directly supported. Not only is it not directly supported, but by design, prior OS versions, even only one year old, do not have the latest security features.

Why is security important now?

The importance of cybersecurity is increasingly more relevant in today’s world as many previously proprietary and closed systems are shifting and embracing more consumer, off the shelf and open systems. These systems are the backbone of the future that sees the use of Internet of Things (IoT), cloud services and data analytics to drive efficiency, reliability and productivity. With the increase in adoption of these connected services comes the need for cybersecurity, as previously standalone and potentially air-gapped networks are being digitized.

As not every connected device or system is inherently valuable, hackers exploit vulnerabilities and can use supply chain automation systems as a gateway into more sensitive data and systems. They only have to find the weakest link. Network outages, cyberattacks, malware and similar incidents affect companies in ways that range from inconvenient productivity loss, to the disruption of service to customers, to the loss of sensitive data, to the entire shutdown of facilities. Cybercriminals in general are either interested in conducting disruptive attacks or attacks in which they gather some form of sensitive data including personally identifiable information, which now carries large fines through regulatory frameworks for organizations that do not properly protect it.

Being cybersmart starts with simple preventative measures (e.g., keeping your OS up-to-date) and requires ongoing vigilance to protect your investment, your customers and your business.

Can you provide an example of what’s in a new Android release?

Honeywell works to make your transition from one version easy. We encourage our customers to migrate from one version to the next to take advantage of the advanced capabilities that Android introduces and new security features which can help with such things as regulatory compliance.

New Android versions always contain significant improvements along with important security and privacy enhancements.  These are items that go far beyond the little fixes that Google issues in regular patches.  They also introduce expansions and restrictions to API’s which permit third-part apps to interact with your device and perform a variety of advanced functions.

For example, when Android 9 was released, it included some of these important security features which aim to keep up with attackers:

  • Support for newer Wi-Fi protocol that improves indoor location pinpointing.
  • More advanced system for image processing for developers to utilize
  • More intelligent system for data management that lets apps prefetch data only when network conditions are optimal.
  • Provides apps with expanded access to Google’s neural networks system for advanced types of machine learning.
  • Creates more effective system for autofill features introduced in Version 8
  • Provides substantial improvements to underlying systems that allow apps to operate.
  • Apps on Android 9 should use less memory and be more power efficient and faster-loading.

And then there is the all the system level privacy and security updates which included in Android 9…

  • More controlled access to your devices camera, mic and sensors
  • Better encryption for backup data
  • More privacy with network connections
  • More protection from unsecure traffic
  • User facing warnings that help you avoid using apps that ignore the latest systems for interacting with your data.

Important. It is important to understand that these and all new security features that come with a new OS version are not backportable/patchable to prior OS versions.  Not even when the prior OS versions is still supported by Google.

How does Honeywell make it easy to upgrade Android OS?

Honeywell has made it easy for our enterprise customers to migrate applications from one Android version to another. Honeywell has built the mobile device platform Mobility Edge. 

Mobility Edge™ is based upon extensive research gathered from Honeywell’s global community of customers from a range of technologies. Honeywell recognized that businesses wanted a unified hardware and software platform for all form factors – one that allowed for rapid deployments, robust performance, and adaptability to changing needs.

We completely innovated our approach to meeting the challenges of supporting a mobile workforce, and Mobility Edge was the answer. This unified, dynamic platform for mobile computing is designed to:

  • Accelerate Deployments. Validate once. Deploy everywhere. Faster, easier, and at lower cost. Enabling versatile out-of-the-box capabilities and a rapid provisioning suite, Mobility Edge expedites development, certification, setup, and training involving multiple form factors at once.
  • Optimize Business Performance. Boost productivity and drive efficiency. Powerful, embedded tools across the platform drive faster data capture and secure, enhanced worker communications. The unified, intuitive experience facilitates user adoption and helps employee’s complete vital tasks.
  • Extend Lifecycle. Forward compatible. Future-proof. Mobility Edge reduces TCO and minimizes headaches with an enterprise-wide approach to maintenance releases, and hardware designed to support ongoing upgrades to the operating system through Android 13 (T) and extended support 5 years beyond that – much longer and across more devices than our competitors’ products.
  • Strengthen Security. Mobility Edge is designed to unleash you from the burdens of fragmented mobile computing. How? By providing a unified, dynamic hardware-and-software platform that offers an agile approach to enabling enterprise IT to deliver better mobile solutions across your business.

Established service and support data went into the development of Mobility Edge. We optimized our mobility devices based on the work patterns of many customers and actual users to deliver more realistic and precise engineering requirements. Using historical insights from service data, we addressed common failure points during the design phase, making our Mobility Edge products more resilient and stable. We also mined our detailed support data to further improve and refine product quality. By providing a unified hardware and software platform with an agile approach, we can bring you more secure and reliable solutions across your operation and we can do it continuously evolving to meet new threats, threat actors.

Mobility Edge offers an integrated, repeatable, scalable approach to workflow automation that is based on a common hardware and software platform. Designed for Android™, it delivers a unified platform that all software solutions are based on. Businesses can develop and deploy faster while reducing development costs.

The Mobility Edge unified platform is composed of:

  • Common Hardware (System On Module, or SOM), which includes the CPU, memory, WWAN (in selected devices), WLAN, Bluetooth®, near-field communication (NFC), and Zigbee (in selected devices).
  • Common Operating System Image with support for multiple generations of Android, through Android 13/T *.
  • Common Software Ecosystem that includes not just Honeywell software, but also Honeywell-approved ISVs (independent software vendors).
  • Add messaging about benefits of OS maintenance and upgrades.
    • Security
    • Feature adds
    • Google android recommended back practice
    • Better than competitors approach of backporting

Together these common elements minimize your company’s cost, effort, and risk. They accelerate your time-to-value so you can start deploying devices into the hands of your mobile workers much faster. And they maximize your ROI by extending the lifecycle of your devices.  And provide highest security, latest features/tech.

Does Honeywell charge for the Android OS upgrades?

No its FREE. We have collaborated closely with Google on their Android mobile OS, and with Qualcomm® on their mobile device chipset, to provide a guarantee of compatibility and support for Mobility Edge all the way through Android 11 and commitment of compatibility through Android 13/T. This is the longest mobile device lifecycle in the industry.

Mobility Edge platform devices are guaranteed to be upgraded through Android 11 (R).  No other device OEM has this guarantee or broad device capability to do so.  Honeywell provides FREE Android maintenance updates and OS version upgrades.  The competition charges for this through service contracts.  While upgrading OS versions is ideal, today Honeywell also provides critical security updates for older OS versions, for up to five years past Google’s last security patch through its Sentinel service, giving customers a product lifecycle through at least 2028.  Honeywell offers Sentinel service at a fraction of the cost of what the competition charges.

How does Honeywell support each Android release?

Honeywell releases updates every 30 to 60 days for the Android versions that it supports with exceptions possible for imminent threats. Each release contains security patch updates and bug fixes. Sometimes new customer-requested features are released with controlled configuration options, allowing any customer to turn them on and use them.

Over and above what Google offers in each version, Honeywell builds in extensions to support our proprietary additions such as scanners that are built into the products. We offer extensive configuration capabilities because most enterprises desire a finer degree of control over what the devices can do. For example, a customer may use an application that does not call for the use of a camera. So rather than say don't use the camera, we provide the user the ability to disable the camera at the operating system level. The camera would look like it's not there.

What happens when Google stops support for a version of Android?

Although Android has been augmented by Google with a variety of new enterprise features with each major release, extended support is not among them. Android major versions occur on a roughly annual basis and are generally supported with security patches from Google and chipset vendors for a period of three years after the initial release. An Android version is typically the latest version for 1 year.  After that, Google will typically support it for 2 more years.  Even during the last 2 years in which Google supports a prior OS version, Google does backport/patch new OS version security features to old OS versions.  Device OEMs are not capable of backporting new OS features into old OS versions either.

How does Honeywell support Android OS after Google support ends?

Honeywell makes the latest OS version available so that customers can maintain the latest security and features, on their own schedule.  Until you are ready to upgrade OS versions, you can easily deploy security patches across all devices on the unified Mobility Edge platform – built to handle all updates through Android 13/T *. When Google ends its security patch support, Honeywell is committed to extending security patch availability for five more years via Honeywell Sentinel, until 2030.

Timing of delivery to customers will be quarterly, or less if no severe patches applicable to the supported operating system version are reported. Applicable patches will generally be delivered within 90 days of public disclosure with exceptions possible for imminent threats.

Customers utilizing this service will be expected to apply all previously released patches in order to apply the most recent patch. In other words, patches are cumulative. Specific patches cannot be applied individually.

Security patches will be tested following Honeywell standard test procedures applicable to all software releases. It remains the responsibility of the customer to test any software updates received from Honeywell to their satisfaction prior to rolling out an update to their estate.

Customers can receive these benefits under the terms of a service contract, either standalone or incorporated into another type of service agreement. Customers without a contract will not receive security patches after Google security patch support ends. This program is available on Honeywell devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow and later versions, upon expiration of Google security patch support.

What devices are supported by the Honeywell Mobility Edge platform?

Honeywell is deeply committed to the longevity and quality of the Mobility Edge platform. The following products are built on the Mobility Edge platform: Honeywell™ CT40, CT60, CN80, CK65, and Thor™ VM1A, and VM3A.

You can expect to see the Mobility Edge family of devices continue to grow year after year. A brief overview of the current Mobility Edge family:

  • Honeywell CN80 mobile computer, an ultra-rugged device for warehouse, manufacturing, and transportation and logistics environments. The most durable handheld Honeywell has ever made, it features both keypad and large touchscreen interface for quick, efficient data entry.
  • Honeywell CT60 mobile computer, a rugged versatile business tool for highly mobile frontline workers in scan-intensive workflows in pickup and delivery, DSD, and parcel post. It offers a long-lasting battery, high-performance scanning, and exceptional durability and reliability.
  • Honeywell CT40 mobile computer, a full-touch, five-inch display device designed for retail, hospitality, and light field mobility environments. It’s an intuitive, compact productivity tool optimized for hours of comfortable use.
  • Honeywell CK65 mobile computer, a rugged, flexible solution for warehouse and manufacturing environments, with both touchscreen and keypad data input options for quick data entry and enhanced scanning read ranges of up to 15.2 m (50 ft).
  • Thor VM1A, the world’s top-selling vehicle-mounted computer, upgraded to Mobility Edge. Hits the sweet spot of overall size, display size, and keypad. The Smart Dock enables use on multiple vehicles and reduces support and maintenance costs. A field-replaceable front panel minimizes downtime.
  • Thor VM3A, designed for the toughest distribution center environments, manufacturing facilities and freight operations. In fact, it’s the industry’s most capable full-size vehicle-mounted mobile computer. The VM3 computer combines a 30.73 cm (12.1 in) display with breakthrough innovations that deliver rapid value for your workflows.

Honeywell’s Mobility Edge is a hardware and software platform that drives agile business outcomes – faster, better, with less cost, and less risk.

How can acquisition of Honeywell Mobility Edge devices save me money?

Let's look at a real-life example of how an enterprise can realize $2 million in savings over a four-years when the deploy an enterprise device built on the Mobility Edge platform compared to a competitive enterprise alternative.

In this scenario, you purchase 1,000 Android rugged devices.

  • In the first two years, the investment in Honeywell Mobility Edge devices and competitive devices is very similar.
  • In year three, because the competitive device is not supported beyond Android 12, you will need to reinvest in replacement devices that will also end of life in two years. The estimated four-year TCO is $4,690,000 or $3,127 per device.
  • With Honeywell Mobility Edge devices, the devices you purchased on Android 9 will be supported through Android 12 or 2029. The estimated savings is $2,207,000. The four-year TCO is $2,483,000 or $1,655 per device.

Keep in mind that your TCO advantage becomes even more compelling as you adopt multiple Mobility Edge device form factors across your operations.

Contact a Honeywell Solutions Expert today! Call 1-800-934-3163.

*Honeywell has partnered with Qualcomm in the design of SOM, guaranteeing compatibility through Android 11/R, and potentially through 13/T. What does potentially/committed mean? Pending any unforeseen design changes with Android 12 and 13, Honeywell with input from Google and Qualcomm, anticipate that with reasonable commercial efforts, SOM1 will be compatible.

Barry J. Ewell

Barry J. Ewell is a Senior Content Marketing Communications Specialist for Honeywell Industrial Automation. He has been researching and writing on supply chain topics since 1991.