Upcoming Samsung Knox MAM updates to challenge BlackBerry

Jake O'Donnell

Samsung is expected to update its mobile application management software and hardware next week in an effort to provide a secure enterprise mobility alternative to BlackBerry and other devices.

A source close to the company said updated security features and new devices are expected at Mobile World Congress (MWC).

[Samsung Knox gets] low marks for deployment and simplicity.

Jack Gold, mobile analyst, J. Gold Associates.

Samsung has teased an "unpacked" device event at MWC, a logical place for the updates after it thrust into enterprise mobility software there last year by bulking up Samsung Approved for Enterprise (SAFE), its own foray into mobile device management (MDM). That included Knox, the container feature that separates business and personal applications and protects corporate data on select Samsung devices.

While Samsung declined to comment on its plans, mobile experts say the time is right for updates to Knox as Samsung attempts to wrestle enterprise market share away from competitors -- particularly, BlackBerry.

Samsung must first prove Knox is a worthwhile investment for enterprises that worry about security on Google Inc.'s Android-based devices, according to Jack Gold, principal and founder of J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass.

The cost for Knox ($3.60 per month per device) and the need to connect it to an existing MDM provider are among the problems Gold sees. That's contrasted against BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES), which is much simpler to implement, he said.

"You buy BES, you set it up, you have your black box and you're done," Gold said. "I give [Samsung] high marks for what they want to do, but low marks for deployment and simplicity."

Another issue is that Knox is only supported on a limited number of devices, Gold said. Support for more devices, beyond just Samsung, could be one avenue for the company, like BlackBerry does with BES.

Samsung Knox could boost enterprise use

Samsung doesn't have the same MDM cache as other companies because of its years as a hardware provider and not as a software provider, according to Craig Mathias, principal at IT consultancy Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass.

"It's a very competitive space and we've seen acquisitions in the industry," Mathias said. "Samsung has the opportunity to be a long-term supplier here and their challenge is to develop an ecosystem of their own."

There's a chance Samsung could join the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple Inc. and Microsoft as companies who offer complete environments if they can get software right, but the jury remains out on Knox, Mathias said.

A recent agreement with Bethesda, Md.-based Digital Management Inc. (DMI) for managed mobility services for SAFE in the U.S. was seen as a boost for Knox if Samsung plans to make a play for the regulated markets long dominated by BlackBerry. DMI won a $16 million MDM contract for the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency in 2013. 

Security issues with Knox aren’t as deep as those with Android, with one analyst saying Google has to come up with a security fix that is integrated down into the kernel.

Samsung is in development with Linux-based mobile OS Tizen but hasn't introduced any U.S. devices or carriers for it, making its potential enterprise impact unclear. It's possible Google's deal to sell Motorola Mobility to Lenovo could lead to more cooperation between Google and Samsung, as well.

"With the divesture of Motorola, a lot of the pressure is really off [the Google-Samsung relationship]," Mathias said.

View the next item in this Essential Guide: Mobile World Congress 2014: Smartphones, tablets, mobility, more or view the full guide: MWC 2014 news and conference coverage

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