After Knox, what’s Samsung’s next big hit in the enterprise?

Smartwatches and IoT look the most interesting to me, but as a company with one of everything, Samsung has a lot of options. Now, which one will be as important as Samsung Knox?

Last week, I spent a day and a half at the 2018 Samsung Developers Conference (SDC) here in San Francisco. Samsung Knox has long been important to the EMM space; though the conference was mostly dedicated to consumer-oriented developers. This may be a bigger overall market, but still, it’s a good time to ask the question: After the success of Knox, what is Samsung’s next big hit in the enterprise?

A look at Samsung Knox

Samsung Knox is undoubtedly a hit. Along with its predecessor (Samsung SAFE), it proved that Android could be managed and secured in the enterprise, and has been dominant ever since. Many high-security customers built their post-BlackBerry mobility strategy on it, and today Samsung Knox comprises a wide range of software and hardware options.

However, there is less differentiation these days. Android Enterprise management APIs and the Android Enterprise Recommended device program have opened up a wider range of Android options for the enterprise. In addition, one of the main visionaries behind Knox, Injong Rhee, left Samsung for Google.

What’s next after Knox?

What else could Samsung do to have another strategic hit for the enterprise?

I think smartwatches are actually a strong category, as there are plenty of interesting enterprise use cases, and Samsung has plenty of enterprise customers already. To support smartwatch software development, Samsung has its Wearable Services Platform, which acts as middleware and allows you to build apps without actually having to create the individual Tizen apps that run on the watches. (I could see this as a great place to integrate with other “workflow,” MBaaS, and MADP products.) The big question here is the total addressable market for enterprise wearables, but it could be pretty big, especially when you also consider business-to-business-to-consumer use cases like patient health monitoring.

Another topic that came up last week at SDC was Samsung smart TVs, which also run Tizen. They support Knox and VPNs, and now even have an RDP client and Smart Card support. Samsung has an existing commercial digital signage business (remember, they’re huge and have one of everything), and Knox support makes sense, since you don’t want anybody hacking your sign. But clearly they’re at least thinking about other markets. In a breakout session, a representative from VMware showed a video demo of Horizon on a Samsung smart TV. (Though in the demo, they were just using the HTML5 client in Tizen’s built-in browser.) However, I just don’t think smart TVs as thin clients is going to be a huge market (plus Samsung already has a few other thin clients, and they’re only a minor player this market).

Of course, DeX came up at SDC. This is the software framework that lets a mobile device run a full desktop user interface. I have to hand it to them, I’m really impressed with how well it works. On the phone, DeX could be useful for some types of field workers (like law enforcement, retail, or hospitality), but I think only extremely enthusiastic business users are going to pare down to just using their phone along with whatever docking options they can find. On tablets, DeX gets more interesting, as it really has something to say in the “can a tablet be a laptop” conversation. (I’ll have more on that when I write my Tab S4 review, coming soon.) Also noteworthy, beta support for Linux on Dex is out now. Samsung is pitching this variant for developer use cases, but I stand by my assessment for business users. Ultimately, DeX might be moderately interesting, but it’s more of an accessory that enables a few more use cases, not the next strategic hit.

When it comes to IoT, Samsung again has one of everything you need for a big enterprise offering: a cloud management platform (SmartThings, which recently announced more cloud-to-cloud integration options); device management and security that goes from software to silicon (Knox); an operating system (Tizen also comes in an RTOS versions); networking gear; and plenty of hardware expertise. This stack resembles full-stack pushes by the other giants, such as Microsoft’s Azure Sphere, and clearly, the total addressable market is huge. But unfortunately, Samsung had nothing to say about enterprise IoT at SDC 2018. This is perhaps their biggest enterprise opportunity, but we’re still waiting to see if they do a big push.

Lastly, I’ll mention that Bixby, the AI/voice-assistant platform, was arguably Samsung’s biggest pitch at the show. However, the enterprise is still looking for unique killer use cases beyond the likes of “what time is my next meeting” (and really, so are consumers). So far, there are just no signs that voice is the next smartphone-level revolution.

Samsung isn’t alone

It may not be clear what Samsung’s next big enterprise hit will be, but they’re not alone. Across the tech industry, almost every player, large or small, is trying to figure out what the next smartphone is, and it feels like we’re still looking.

However, Samsung is in a good place. Like I said, they have one of everything, so their bets are already hedged by default. They have strengths that could be a big advantage in wearable devices and IoT.

And in the meantime, despite the inroads of Android Enterprise and Android Enterprise Recommended, I have no doubt that using Samsung Knox and devices will continue to be a key strategy for many customers.

Post script, November 30th

After I posted this article, I had email conversation with Samsung about DeX, to further clarify their plans and vision. Here's what I asked, and what I learned:

What type of situations do you imagine where developers will use DeX instead of a laptop?

"The purpose of Linux on DeX is to enable developers to access their work anywhere, anytime. Since today’s smartphones are as fast and powerful as laptops, DeX opens the possibility of having a PC-like experience with the smaller form factor of Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets even while on the go. With DeX, they can then easily connect to a larger monitor with keyboard and mouse when they require that larger screen space."

Do you envision a future where companies just give their developers phones or tablets instead of laptops?

"Companies must consider a number of factors when distributing devices to their employees—factors that vary widely by company. DeX is an exciting way to extend the use of corporate liable smartphones and tablets within their environments."

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