Samsung is launching a full-scale attack on the enterprise smartphone market – and on Research In Motion Ltd. – hoping to make inroads in the one area of the mobile device sector where BlackBerry still dominates.
Over the weekend, the company behind the some of the best-selling smartphones in the world announced a new service called KNOX. Samsung's newest offering, aimed directly at the kind of big companies that currently rely on BlackBerrys, is essentially a piece of software designed to let IT departments manage Samsung phones securely. KNOX, as the program's name suggests, is also part of Samsung's attempt to convince big corporate buyers that phones running on Google's Android operating system can be as secure as BlackBerrys.
But changing perceptions among corporate buyers is no easy task. Android has long had a reputation as an operating system that is easy to break into, raising the likelihood that Android phones can be infected with malicious software. And even though RIM has suffered in recent years in the consumer market, even Samsung executives admit BlackBerry's reputation in the enterprise world is stellar.
"We know the stability king is just down the highway," said a Toronto-based Samsung marketing executive, referring to RIM's headquarters in Waterloo, Ont., to the west of Toronto.
So far, Samsung's most powerful competitor in the enterprise space is confident it can maintain its place. RIM executives declined an interview request, but in a statement, RIM's executive vice-president of mobile computing, David Smith, said more than 3,500 enterprises and government agencies are already evaluating BlackBerry 10, which went on sale early this month.
"Whatever any of our competitors announce, one thing won't change. The most secure mobile computing solution is a BlackBerry device running on a BlackBerry platform," he wrote.
Nonetheless, Samsung sees an opportunity to strike for two reasons. The first is RIM's own vulnerability. Coming off a couple of very bad years, the smartphone giant currently faces the daunting task of trying to win back users with its new BlackBerry 10 line of smartphones. At the same time, Samsung has seen positive results among consumers, as its Note and Galaxy smartphone lines have quickly become the most profitable Android-based devices in the market.
Now, Samsung executives hope those consumer phones start spilling into the office, thanks to the growing "Bring Your Own Device" trend among many large companies. Indeed, KNOX is essentially a BYOD management tool for IT departments, allowing administrators to perform tasks such as remotely wiping all business-related data from a phone without touching a user's personal information or apps.
But for KNOX to succeed, Samsung must first tackle two major hurdles that have so far made Android-based devices unpopular with corporate users. The first is fragmentation. In recent years, Google has released myriad upgrades to its operating system, and while each upgrade brought many much needed improvements, it also meant that the number of Android versions on the market kept increasing. That fragmentation could dissuade IT departments from adopting the platform for fear that current features may not be compatible with earlier versions of Android, or may be changed further in future iterations.
The second and more significant hurdle is overall security. BlackBerrys often employ high-grade encryption, but Android is not known for its ability to keep data secure. To remedy this, Samsung engineers have spent months working with the National Security Agency in the United States, developing encryption technology for the company's smartphones.
Samsung still has one advantage: volume. According to International Data Corp. research, Samsung's full-year phone shipments in 2012 climbed almost 130 per cent from the year prior. RIM, on the other hand, saw shipments drop more than 36 per cent during the same period.