What’s next for Knox? All eyes will be on Samsung at Mobile World Congress

For the last few years, Mobile World Congress has meant major EMM-related announcements from Samsung. But Samsung, Android, and the enterprise mobility space have changed a lot in the last year and it's anyone's guess as to what will happen this time around.

For the last few years, Mobile World Congress has meant major EMM-related announcements from Samsung. But Samsung, Android, and the enterprise mobility space have changed a lot in the last year and it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen this time around.

Samsung’s devices were always been known for having the best Android MDM. Under the SAFE (or Samsung for Enterprise) program, they not only went beyond native Android, but also beyond most other Android OEMs. If a organization was going to be selective about supporting Android, Samsung was (and still is) at the top of the list.

At Mobile World Congress 2013, Samsung announced the first version of Knox, an OS-based framework for keeping work and personal apps and data securely separated from each other. They weren’t the first to come up with this idea, but given their market share it was taken for granted that Knox would be the first big-time devices with built-in data separation features.

Unfortunately, Knox suffered from the flaw that not only did it require specific Samsung Galaxy devices, it also required enterprise apps to be specifically targeted at Knox or modified via app wrapping.

However Knox 2.0 was announced at Mobile World Congress 2014, and with that there was no more need for specialized apps or app wrapping—it was what we all thought Knox should have been in the first place. At that time Samsung also announced the Knox EMM service (that can also manage iOS and other Android devices) and the Knox identity and access management service.

Now it’s almost time for Mobile World Congress 2015—what could Samsung have in store this time around? The last 8 months have been very eventful, making that a difficult question to answer.

Last June, Samsung and Google announced that Knox’s MDM and data separation frameworks would be added to the core version of Android. The result is known as Android Work, and even though Google hasn’t released it yet, in theory soon new Android devices from all OEMs will have much improved enterprise capabilities. Samsung Knox devices will continue to differentiate themselves by virtue of their various hardware-based security features, though this does mean they have less of a unique selling point than in the past.

At the same time, there’s an ongoing question about how popular Knox really is. Certainly the management capabilities are great to have when these devices come into the enterprise via BYOD or COPE. But so far there’s just not much evidence that Knox is taking off as a standard organization-issued fleet phone for highly-regulated industries and government (essentially, the BlackBerry fleet replacement use case). This is despite heavy promotion by EMM vendors and continuing progress with certifications (including recent approval for US government classified use).

There are several possible reasons why this hasn’t happened yet. First, it’s just too soon, and the target customers are by their nature very conservative. Second, despite all the certifications there can be any number of technical issues or even just plain bias, since after all we’re talking about something that’s Android and not BlackBerry. Lastly, there’s the vast majority of organizations that over time have just become comfortable with iOS, other Android devices, and BYOD. (It should be noted that there are plenty of large Samsung Knox tablet deployments going on, but that’s a very different use case.)

Last November, Samsung entered in a partnership with BlackBerry that could help with highly-regulated industry and government acceptance. Under the plan, Knox devices could connect directly to the BlackBerry NOC infrastructure. More recently rumors have swirled, including that Samsung would buy BlackBerry, or that the next flagship Samsung devices will come with preinstalled apps from Microsoft.

What does this mean overall? It’s hard to even guess what Samsung’s next enterprise mobility management move will be—but we’re only a week away from the opportunity to learn more at Mobile World Congress. Looking at the larger picture, the enterprise mobility zeitgeist has moved on to apps. MDM? That’s solved.

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