Secure phones that enterprises can trust: Can Samsung unseat BlackBerry?

There's no dispute that two of the biggest EMM stories of the last year or so have been the ups and downs of BlackBerry and Samsung KNOX. They're both interesting in their own right, but they're also intertwined-Samsung wants to go after the high-security/enterprise market traditionally dominated by BlackBerry.

There’s no dispute that two of the biggest EMM stories of the last year or so have been the ups and downs of BlackBerry and Samsung KNOX. They're both interesting in their own right, but they’re also intertwined—Samsung wants to go after the high-security/enterprise market traditionally dominated by BlackBerry.

They both have their pros and cons: Samsung has highly-desirable devices, but the KNOX features have been slow to roll out and are as yet unproven. BlackBerry has years of enterprise and high-security trust, but its devices have limited appeal.

With all the ups and downs over the last year—and especially over the last month or two—I thought it would be interesting to lay out all the major events in a timeline.

2011

BlackBerry began losing market share thanks to the arrival of modern MDM, the iPad, and good Android devices. (Remember that up through 2010 BlackBerry was still growing, concurrent with the growth of the iPhone.)

2011-2012

As Samsung phones and tablets grew in popularity, Samsung introduced SAFE, a set of management APIs that augment the MDM features that come with the basic version of Android.

2012

BlackBerry responded to the changing marketplace in two primary ways: The BlackBerry 10 OS (along with new phones to run it), and BlackBerry Mobile Fusion, an MDM product that can manage iOS and Android devices.

Early 2013

At Mobile World Congress in February, Samsung announced KNOX, an extension of SAFE intended to keep corporate and personal data separate and provide tighter security for enterprise devices.

After some delays, BlackBerry 10 phones were finally released, but they sold poorly, with most of enterprise customers continuing to buy phones that run on the old OS, BlackBerry 7.

Mid 2013

In June BlackBerry released Secure Work Space, a mobile app management suite for iOS and Android, making BlackBerry’s offerings similar to most other enterprise mobility management vendors.

Meanwhile, much of the world forecasted impending doom for BlackBerry,  which announced that it was open to “strategic alternatives” in August.

Late 2013

In light of all the doubt around BlackBerry’s future, Gartner advised that companies find strategic alternatives to BlackBerry. Naturally, other EMM vendors are all over this.

But then instead of being completely restructured or sold off, BlackBerry instead received a billion dollar cash investment and did some house cleaning. CEO Thorsten Heins was out, replaced by John Chen, who’s known for having turned things around at Sybase when they were in a similar situation.

Over the next few month, BlackBerry got much more bullish about their messaging. (Check out this letter to enterprise customers from John Chen.) They’re touting their strong enterprise mobile security background, and refreshingly, doing a lot better job acknowledging Android and iOS.

In the mean time, there are still many questions about Samsung KNOX, with the rollout being slower than anticipated.

Recent activity

More recently, Samsung KNOX has faced some bumps. Security researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel announced they found a security vulnerability that could allow a malicious app in the personal area to intercept the communications from the secure container. (Here’s their blog.)

Samsung and Google responded with comments that, depending who you ask, either calm overblown fears or are patronizing and dismissive. They stated that “the exploit uses legitimate Android network functions in an unintended way to intercept unencrypted network connections from/to applications on the mobile device;” that the exploit is merely a classic man-in-the-middle attack; and that if you configure MDM tools and apps correctly, the exploit shouldn’t be a problem.

Clearly the issue is subject to interpretation. Naturally BlackBerry jumped all over the story, while other EMM vendors have been silent.

So what do we make of all this? You be the judge. While I have no doubt that the kinks will get worked out of KNOX, we’ll clearly be hearing a lot more from BlackBerry, too.

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Samsung's biggest problem is how are they able to keep their devices updated to the latest Android.  Apple is the only vendor that get to provide updates directly to devices without the carrier.


Every other carrier requires the end user to update through them in order to get carrier updated rom.  


This may create a big problem for Samsung to issue timely OS updates that enterprises demand.


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