The DroidDevCast

Esper's 2020 Year End Recap

Episode Summary

On today’s episode of The DroidDevCast, Esper Platform Evangelist Rin Oliver is joined by Esper COO Shiv Sundar, Esper CEO Yadhu Gopalan, Esper VP of Customer Success Chris Stirrat, Esper Director of Cybersecurity Jasmine Henry, and Esper VP of Technical Sales Keith Szot. Together, these members of the Esper team discuss some of the trends we’ve seen this year in terms of Android devices and Android software development and the Android ecosystem, AOSP, and trends they saw in 2020.

Episode Notes

On today’s episode of The DroidDevCast, Esper Platform Evangelist Rin Oliver is joined by Esper COO Shiv Sundar, Esper CEO Yadhu Gopalan, Esper VP of Customer Success Chris Stirrat, Esper Director of Cybersecurity Jasmine Henry, and Esper VP of Technical Sales Keith Szot. Together, these members of the Esper team discuss some of the trends we’ve seen this year in terms of Android devices and Android software development and the Android ecosystem, AOSP, and trends they saw in 2020.

Episode Transcription

Rin Oliver (00:07):

Welcome to The DroidDevCast, a podcast brought to you by the team Esper, bringing you the latest news, thoughtful discussion and insights and developing the Android, Android DevOps, and open source software development. I'm your host Rin Oliver, platform evangelist to Esper and today I'm joined by Esper COO, Shiv Sundar, Esper CEO, Yadhu Gopalan, Esper VP of Customer Success, Chris Stirrat, Esper Director of Cybersecurity, Jasmine Henry, and Esper VP of Technical Sales, Keith Szot. It's quite a panel we've got lined up to discuss some of the trends we've seen this year in terms of Android devices and Android software development. So with that said, let's kick things off and get started by asking what each of you saw as the biggest surprise issue in terms of the Android ecosystem. Was there anything exciting? If so, let's talk about it.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (00:47):

I'll go first. I'll start off with saying that 2020 was a pretty challenging time for all of us. And we saw more enterprises deploying Android-based devices as part of their overall solution. And what you could see was acceleration of the deployment to address the fact that many are working from home and the need to reduce physical customer interaction. And this particular kind of capability that customers needed to empower underscores how important a product like Esper is to fill the large gap that exists and will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. It's this capability that we can enable enterprises small and large to deploy devices at scale and have a rigorous control of how their applications are deployed and monitored on their devices.

 

Jasmine Henry (01:39):

Thanks, Rin, I think that mobile adoption accelerated really quickly across industries and that had a huge impact on conversations about risk. Organizations had to figure out how to protect the device and the data from user risks and cloud risks really quickly. And the result was a perimeter 2.0 security model. And instead of creating a perimeter around a traditional network, it was about creating boundaries around a really tightly defined usage model that prevented unauthorized use. And I think that those types of really defined single-use scenarios are often the best risk controls in many use cases. Also closing off user access to expose the device to unsecured networks or cloud risks, safeguards against privacy risks in industries like education and healthcare.

 

Keith Szot (02:38):

Hey, Rin. This is Keith. So on this one, I knew it was coming, but I just had to see it to believe it. So for context, I was a key player in launching Windows CE for vertical markets long time ago. I worked on Linux Compete for Windows Embedded. Just like go after Linux. Worked on Windows Phone, device makers OEMs. I lived in Microsoft's OEM division for many years. By the way, I use the MacBook while I was in there, which is not necessarily advised. And then I was working as a consultant when Steve Ballmer made that famous iPhone prediction. I have a danger device. The dagger in the heart for how Microsoft handled their mobile business. So imagine my surprise when Microsoft shipped an Android device, the Surface Duo, nonetheless. They're an OEM. They build apps. They're a cloud company first, a major change for Microsoft and frankly for the Android device maker industry as a whole.

 

Rin Oliver (03:34):

So do you have any big news around AOSP impacting custom-device builders?

 

Keith Szot (03:40):

Yeah. So this is Keith, again. Absolutely. I think Google's continued roll out of Project Mainline has some really interesting implications and opportunities for custom-built devices. So this is the ongoing materialization of AOSP and it's improving Android's architecture for delivering system updates, whether it's from Google, via Google Play for GMS devices or via a device maker or OS supplier on these custom-built devices. So it simplifies the process to deliver the latest security patches to your deployed devices, which means lower engineering costs for the device maker ecosystem. We're hopeful this translates into faster availability of patches for custom-built devices resulting in more secure devices deployed in the field. Now it's going to continue. According to Google, you'll see the Android runtime, the ART, included in Project Mainline with Android 12. And this is a very important part of the core system and it will be more easily updatable moving forward when we hit Android 12 in 2021.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (04:45):

Great point, Keith. This direction that Google is taking is really going to enable us to get patches to these devices or availability of patches. But one of the things it's not being addresses is how do these patches actually get deployed, pushed onto devices and controlling, how are these patches going to be deployed to physical devices, staged, reduce the blast radius, monitor the progress. And, if you have issues, how do you roll back these patches? Because any patch that you do is a risk, whether for application compatibility, the driver compatibility and system compatibility. And this is where really Esper comes in. And we fill that gap and we take what Google's enabling by faster ability to build patches and get the core Android pieces out and not having to wait for system manufacturers to build that. And we can allow our customers and partners do take these and these available patches and enable these engineering teams with these devices to actually make these patches available and deploy them with higher level of confidence. So I'm really excited about this.

 

Rin Oliver (06:12):

It is exciting. I'm going to go off script for a second and ask is that where something like Android Over The Air updates come into play, or would I be wrong there? We can cut this if I'm wrong.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (06:20):

So Android Over The Air, what that solves is for the consumer market. Google pushes out an update and all the phones get it, but dedicated space is a little bit different. You want to go one device, 10 device. You want monitor because these are all mission critical devices. So you really want to have tight control of the rollout. You really want to know what the impact of the patch is going to be. You want to be able to test. You want to like have velocity those slow, increases over time and be able to control that. You've got a hundred thousand devices. How do I manage that? How do I push it to the devices that I know have the best capability of monitoring. Those are the solutions that you have to have on top of it. The over the air is just how do I get the update? But it's a little bit more than that. It's granular control that we need to give the customers who are doing this mission control, mission specific devices and dedicated devices in the field.

 

Chris Stirrat (07:32):

Yeah. And this is Chris. From a customer standpoint, we're actually seeing a big uptick of customers interested in AOSP-based devices for a lot of the reasons Yadhu mentioned there. And a lot of these customers started off with just standard off-the-shelf phones, tablets, things like that. And over time as their fleet of devices has grown and their management has expanded across that fleet, they're looking to us to help provide them a much better managed experience for things as Yadhu was mentioning, they're updating their devices over-the-air updates, things like that.

 

Rin Oliver (08:06):

Beautiful. Thank you so much. That was actually very helpful context. So my next question would be what does Android 11 mean for the dedicated device market? How has that changed the market? How is it going to, et cetera?

 

Keith Szot (08:18):

Yeah, let me jump in here on this one. This is Keith again. So this is that age-old question of what is the right Android OS version to choose when you're creating your fleet. And there is the GMS part of it and there is the AOSP part of this. So for custom-device builders, when Android 11 ship, Google just supports the latest four versions of the OS when they deliver security patch coverage for AOSP. So that means that Android 7 you get was dropped when Android 11 shipped. And there are a lot of custom-built Android 7-based devices out there, which are no longer covered by Google. So this is a big challenge for customers and something that we're actively helping our customers figure out how to cover this. So a very important area to keep these deployed devices secured, as it doesn't mesh well with Google's consumer-driven model around their devices that they do with GMS, which takes me to the GMS next.

 

Keith Szot (09:20):

So with GMS, it's a decision of if you're going to get these off-the-shelf consumer devices, what model do you pick? Because we they're talking about firmware over the air. And when you have a consumer device, you have either no or limited control over when the OS is updated from an OEM. And so we saw this in the roll from Android 9 to Android 10. You see it somewhat from Android 10 to Android 11. It means that our customers need to ensure that their overall solution will work with the latest Android version as their device fleet gets updated. And so that typically is your APK that runs on the device. It could have implications for your backend, for your cloud, but this is a cycle that consumer devices force our customers to be on and something that they have to look at comparing the availability of the device, if it's an older device and it has a stable OLS release that they're happy with versus getting a newer device.

 

Keith Szot (10:23):

How long will it be in the market? How long will it receive security patches? And we'll let roll to the next major version release. This is an annual event for Android. We'll see this over and over again, and it's going to happen in the run-up to Android 12 next year. Now, the step back is the coolest feature with Android 11, it's the wireless debugging added to ADB in Android 11. It's super cool. If you're a developer, if you haven't tried it, you got to try it out.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (10:50):

Yeah. Thanks, Keith. Yeah. I think you hit it on the nose. Google's making a yearly update. It's a challenge for our customers who have consumer devices deployed in dedicated devices. And one of the things we see is with increased competition in the consumer space and fragmentation from device vendors, et cetera, a lot of the changes are to address that. Our dedicated device-based, one of the features was widgets and dark mode and all these things that are great for consumer, but don't really address the dedicated device area that we're focused on. And what really is lacking in these releases of solutions that address the problems these enterprises face other day-to-day management, day-to-day scaling, day-to-day activities. And although the great thing about these patches is they do bring security patches into the fold. And our job is to figure out how to get these to these devices and in a meaningful manner.

 

Rin Oliver (12:03):

Absolutely. I agree completely. So everyone, what was your favorite device or customer use case that you worked with this year and if you have a favorite, why is it your favorite?

 

Jasmine Henry (12:13):

This is Jasmine. I was really impressed by the way that some of our customers took a holistic approach to device health this year. And we're including network security and data encryption. Esper is unique in the sense that it offers the ability to see every layer of device security. Your hardware, firmware, configurations, apps, and content, and respond in real time as those risks emerge.

 

Keith Szot (12:41):

Yeah, this is Keith. For me, it's driven by COVID. And part of it was it was breathtaking to see the swing with our customers, depending on what vertical they were in, for better or for worse. Retail was hit hard and they had to make a lot of switches in terms of their business model and their focus. But at the core it's how our customers with Esper help people work their way through this COVID situation. And so remote patient monitoring, using Android devices paired with on-body sensors. That is a big one. It allowed people to be able to stay at home and have remote care that otherwise would not have been practically available to them in this environment. And the other one is the situation with retirement homes. Older people that got hit hard from a social perspective due to COVID. And, basically, they get locked up in their rooms for their own protection, but really without a lot to do. And so one of our customers provides entertainment and communication devices for senior citizens, and they had a huge uptake in their business.

 

Keith Szot (13:55):

And it was really nice to see because in my mind each new device added to Esper is connected directly to a person and making their experience better in this hard time. The last one for me is just the rise of a ML on the edge. So we have a set of customers that are pushing ML Models to these edge devices as part of their solutions. And so really interesting to see the uptake of that. And, by the way, though they're some pretty big files, Esper can handle them.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (14:24):

Yeah, exactly. And, Keith, and I think I totally agree. Those use cases you pointed out were super critical during these times and it's awesome to be able to enable these companies to make those scenarios really work. For me, one of the things is it's more of a trend and this really accelerated, I think, during 2020. And this is what I talk about is the digital transformation by what I think of as traditional companies, just you would never think of them as really playing in the digital space. They started to really internalize the fact that they had to come up with something that was more modern, that took advantage of customers really wanting to be able to interact digitally with the product. And this can be from fitness to healthcare, but to drive a really innovative customer experience is what we see. And really I think this is just going to continue and more and more companies are going to want to have a device or some experience as part of their overall solution.

 

Rin Oliver (15:45):

I agree completely. Everybody, I was wondering, how did you see the Android landscape evolve this year? What shifts were drastic and which were a little more subtle?

 

Keith Szot (15:55):

Well, I'll say I would call it gradual. I think 5G is going to be a key driver for the design targets with chip vendors. You're going to start to see this trickle down from the introduction of consumer devices with the carriers around 5G and the emergence of these commercial use cases and the opportunity to include them in custom-built devices. It's kind of fuzzy. We're just up the hill from T-Mobile. And I was down getting some food at the grocery store and T-Mobile engineers were in the parking lot testing streaming media services that was clearly for 5G. And T-Mobile is going to be rolling this out as a service for homes, most likely, competing with cable television. So that's one use case, one aspect that hasn't really been touched upon. And when you look at 5G, it could potentially open up a lot of interesting new use cases for dedicated devices. And so I'm pretty excited for that coming into 2021. Now, as a side note, it's just like, "What the heck is 5G." It's a very murky. A topic for another day.

 

Rin Oliver (17:10):

Although if you want to hear a little bit about 5G, you can check out our podcast with Siyata Mobile, random plug, but you can.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (17:16):

Well said, Kate. I think while everybody is excited about 5G, for me this year has been great transforming in terms of verticals that were accelerated for like more than five years in like a few months. Restaurants, fitness, healthcare, all these verticals were drastically impacted by what COVID had imposed upon them. And pretty much every single vertical took up the challenge to transform themselves in what would be a post-COVID world. If you take vertical by vertical, restaurants, we saw an emergence of cloud kitchens and dominance of food delivery, connected fitness. While Peloton was the only player in connected fitness, we saw a lot of fitness companies transform their business model of manufacturing fitness equipment for gyms to at-home fitness devices. And one particular vertical that we felt was super interesting for us was health care. While healthcare providers have always been a little slower or adopt the latest and greatest technology, due to security concerns and strict regulations and HIPAA.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (18:33):

We have seen like many, many hospitals through our customers, completely transform their patient care experience from booking appointments to follow-up checkups to monitoring patients at health are, even devices that the patients would take home and monitor their vitals back at home. So [inaudible 00:18:52] some major happening [inaudible 00:18:55] was partially due to what COVID had done. But anyway, those were changes that needed to be happen. From a positioning point of view, what I would like to call out is, for me, the change that happened this year and for the upcoming years, Android is going to be a dominant choice of operating system for IoT devices. Android, yes, powers over two billion [inaudible 00:19:20] phone. I truly believe that Android is going to evolve as a major IoT operating system provider in the upcoming years.

 

Rin Oliver (19:30):

Absolutely. I agree completely. Switching gears a little bit, everyone. What's the key thing that you see as being the most beneficial when deploying Esper Enhanced Android on single-purpose devices?

 

Yadhu Gopalan (19:43):

I'll go first set the stage as pertinent to Android or EEA as we call it in short is about bringing a package solution that layers on top of AOSP that not only simplifies the deployment of devices, but more importantly improves the overall manageability of these devices. It allows our hybrid partners to ship faster by increasing the velocity of deployment by their customers, allowing customers being able to take it from manufacturing all the way to where they want to go to. The other key thing that is really what we have help is allow the harder manufacturers to offload the complex and tedious task of providing firmware upgrades. And we take that task off. And the equivalency that I would bring in that other people are used to is like Red Hat and Red Hat's services and manageability solutions that they have on top of Red Hat, they kind of go hand in hand.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (20:48):

And, well, for us, you can think of EEA as kind of like the Red Hat OS and then the Esper cloud solution as a manageability solution that really works closely with that [inaudible 00:21:00]. Although we work on off-the-shelf devices, EEA just makes this experience a lot more better.

 

Keith Szot (21:07):

Yeah, this is Keith. So, for me, it's a seamless provisioning and the built-in, ready-to-go remote diagnostics that are provided by EAA. The industry thirsts for true zero touch and the typical methods that you have available to you through GMS are not. So when you look at EEA with a push for contactless experiences and rollout, seamless provisioning achieves that. It minimizes truck rolls. We have one customer that drop ship kiosks running EEA to their retail locations, and they had the store managers break the box, plug it in, connect it to ethernet and the device booted up and was enrolled in provision to spec based on that being remotely defined through Esper. So it was a really streamlined way that fit into the COVID situation and also minimizes operational costs. That was really neat to see out in the real world. And that then relates to well as a developer these days being able to engage with local personnel that are technically competent around a device that's having problems that's tough to do, much less you going out there to service it yourself.

 

Keith Szot (22:30):

And so remote control as a table stake, but a secure remote ADB to any of your EEA devices in the field is absolutely a fantastic feature and has been used by our customers to effectively solve problems from their office and be able to keep their fleet running in the year of COVID.

 

Rin Oliver (22:52):

I see over-the-air firmware updates as a huge benefit of Esper Enhanced Android. Firmware over the air is sometimes awkwardly made into the acronym of FOTA. And I think that there has been a major trend this year towards firmware attacks that are exceptionally resilient, hard to detect and becoming more sophisticated. Former hacks can take place in a lot of ways. Malware root kits, infected USBs, wifi, ethernet, Bluetooth, and more. And one recent malware strain could actually re-install after an Android device factory reset, which meant that organizations needed to migrate their OS or reflash the OEM firmware in order to get rid of it. So I see EEA as a means of protection in addition to other controls against this trend of firmware attacks. And if you choose to have Esper manage those firmware updates for you, it can also really reduce the operational burden.

 

Chris Stirrat (24:07):

Hey, this is Chris. Just one thing to add here. One thing we hear from customers a lot is when the devices are going to take an update to the OS, they really want to control which devices take the update first. They want to put them through tests. They want to test out their own applications that run and do that before they deploy it out to their production fleet. And so EEA provides them a much easier way to manage that whole process. They can target the over-the-air update to specific devices at specific times. They can do their testing and then they can roll out to the rest of their fleet. So it resonates really well with customers and it's something that they definitely need control over.

 

Rin Oliver (24:48):

I agree completely. Absolutely. Thank you everyone for your well thought out answers. And for my next question, I was wondering, in what ways have you seen the Android DevOps space evolve this year? What were the biggest changes that you saw there?

 

Keith Szot (25:00):

Yeah, well, I'll start out with the simple and obvious. The putting the infrastructure in place from the Esper perspective, and so we introduced pipelines in 2020, allowing you to do app updates, app uninstall, reboot, stack it up, define your own stages as you wish against that pipeline. And so it was really cool to be able to introduce and, from my perspective, demonstrate this capability to customers in 2020. And so I'm really excited about where we're going to take it in 2021.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (25:37):

Well, thanks, Keith. I think for us pipeline is the central piece of like how we think about DevOps, and there's lots of different solutions and different things that we have and we're bringing in, but that's absolutely the core value proposition. And I really want to talk about what DevOps. This thing is taken for granted now. Everybody does it on the cloud side and it's incorporated into every aspect of day-to-day functionality for engineering teams and making sure the solutions work without any service interruption. And that's our goal. We want to bring this in and we wanted to take something from this playbook and provide this to our customers on how they manage these large fleets and make it a DevOps problem. This is actually really resonated well with our customers. They loved the tactic and the vision and the way we were thinking about this problem set. It's not really about we do X or we do Y, but it's holistic approach, the overall problem, how we enable engineering teams to control and operate these things.

 

Jasmine Henry (26:52):

This is Jasmine. I think that Yadhu really got to the core of what we're doing, which is scaling the incredibly proven DevOps model to a distributed Android computing model. The annual State of DevOps survey came out about a week ago, and it shows that DevOps maturity is rising on average at organizations. And what that means in traditional computing models, they're shifting their focus from building a DevOps infrastructure. They've got the infrastructure in place now, and now they're building on top of it to create the capacity for monitoring, disaster recovery and mature automation. And I think that's the vision for our Android DevOps infrastructure is to provide that, so our customers can compete on availability, data privacy, and those factors really tie into customer quality of experience.

 

Rin Oliver (27:50):

I agree completely. Lastly, everyone, is there anything you'd like to mention for our listeners as we wrap up 2020?

 

Shiv Sundar (27:56):

Thanks for asking, Rin. Nobody ever thought you would have a year like this, pandemic, offices are down, work from home. I think, for me, as has been heading through the holiday season and as we are coming close to the year, well, one thing that I'm extremely grateful for both from a company perspective, our employees, as a business, we managed to survive this year. Our employees managed to work from home and keep their spirits up. And they were able to, in many ways, avoid the whatever the disruption pandemic had cost to the loved ones. We're very fortunate. Our employees are healthy. We are doing well as a business. And we managed to fight this year out. That speaks a lot to, one, our resilience as a company and as people, but also we are very fortunate that we were able to avoid any kind of major catastrophe in terms of personal or professional lives. From a business perspective, I think I'm very, very happy that as a technology, we were able to make a very, very small impact in few areas.

 

Shiv Sundar (29:20):

Very specially around 3,000 devices were deployed in Asia and Africa to help rural kids continue their education during COVID. We were able to provide technology in the restaurant sector for food delivery to keep a couple of these restaurants up and running, despite the fact that the entire dining was closed. And, finally, in the healthcare sector, we had deployed over 2,000 devices across various hospitals in the United States, from temperature scanning to patient monitoring, and just a feeling that as a company, that the product that we built and me and Yadhu envisioned, we were able to make a small impact during COVID makes me really, really happy. And I'm really hoping for a much more positive, much more brighter 2021 for everybody at Esper and for everybody around the world. Thank you.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (30:22):

Yeah, thanks, Shiv. I completely share your enthusiasm. And 2021 would be a much better. And really coming back to a point. 2021 has no doubt been a very challenging year for everyone. And like Shiv, super thankful that we were able to help these customers navigate this together and address the challenges and deliver some value that they can use in many different ways. And as we exit 2020, things are looking up. We have a vaccine in the pipeline and just hoping that things will go back to normal. And at Esper also, we're exiting on a positive note and we are looking forward to 2021 and continuing to support our customers even better. Along with our hyper focus on customer service, we're really proud of this. We have an amazing slate of features that we plan to roll out in 2021 that our customers can take advantage of. And the key fact is that Esper success is directly tied to how our customers deploy and scale their fleet. As our customers are able to enable their solutions, our success is directly in line with that.

 

Yadhu Gopalan (31:47):

Here's to looking forward to 2021 for our customers, our partners, and a truly amazing set of employees who make an Esper really, really, really great.

 

Rin Oliver (31:58):

I agree completely. Thank you so much, everyone, for joining me. I truly appreciate it. And I look forward to 2021, as well. And on that note, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of The DroidDevCast. We'll be back next week with another exciting show for you. Please remember to like, subscribe and share this episode on social media. You can follow us on Twitter at @Esperdev and subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up with all the latest happenings here at Esper. You can learn more about Esper at esper.io\demo, and don't forget to listen to The DroidDevCast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, or wherever you get your podcasts from. Thank you again for listening.