Samsung Armors Android to Take On BlackBerry
Published: February 28, 2013
BARCELONA, Spain — Samsung Electronics, which continues to vex Apple, now has another target: the BlackBerry.
Samsung’s smartphones have been best sellers all over the world, but the company has been, until recently, marketing them to consumers, not businesses.
But over the last year, Samsung, the South Korean manufacturer, has been quietly beefing up the Google Android software that runs on its smartphones to give businesses a phone with more security.
It introduced that software, named Knox, as in the fort, at an international cellphone industry trade show here this week. Samsung said its new version of Android protected users from malware.
The company hopes that the new software makes Samsung smartphones attractive to corporate information technology departments that worry about the theft of sensitive corporate data by hackers. I.T. managers have been among BlackBerry’s most loyal customers because of the security BlackBerry built into its phones and the private communications network it maintains.
Samsung said it teamed up with General Dynamics, a military contractor, to ensure its phones met the strict security standards of government agencies. Samsung executives have said Knox will first appear on a new Galaxy smartphone in the second quarter. That phone is likely to be the Galaxy S IV, which is expected to be introduced at an event in New York on March 14.
The company has also been focusing more on businesses in its advertisements. It ran a series of amusing commercials during the Academy Awards show on Sunday featuring the phones’ handiness in a business.Samsung said it had evidence that it was ready for enterprise. Thousands of its Galaxy smartphones and tablets are already in the hands of American Airlines flight attendants, Dish Network cable technicians and Boston Scientific health care professionals.
“We will become No. 1 in enterprise,” said Tim Wagner, a vice president for enterprise sales at Samsung who worked at BlackBerry. “If Samsung chooses to be No. 1 in a certain area, we will become No. 1.”
Samsung has become the top seller of televisions and cellphones, but persuading I.T. managers to risk their jobs on a new security system will be tricky. BlackBerry executives insist the BlackBerry is still the top phone for professionals. But the company is vulnerable. Android phones and Apple iPhones last year replaced BlackBerrys as the most-used phones among workers all over the world, according to a study by the research firm IDC.
It found that more businesses were buying iPhones for their employees, and Android phones were the most popular among workers buying their own phones. That puts Samsung, as the leading Android phone maker, in position to become a top vendor for businesses.
To appeal to the business user, Samsung added special features to Android. One tool allows the phone owner to create separate “personas” for personal and business use, a feature also on the new BlackBerry 10.
In a phone’s business persona, an office worker can use apps approved and monitored by the I.T. department. The worker can switch to a personal persona, where personal photos, games and calendar are stored, which cannot be seen by I.T. If the employee were to leave the company and keep the phone, the I.T manager can erase the data from the business persona, leaving the personal data untouched.
The business persona also has a layer of security. If malware were to infect the phone, it would not be able to invade the apps and data in the business persona, said Rhee Injong, a senior vice president for the Samsung group that developed Knox.
Samsung also has teamed up with AirWatch, a company that makes tools for I.T. professionals to manage phones. AirWatch will make detailed tweaks inside the business persona of a Samsung device, like creating restrictions for Wi-Fi networks or blacklisting certain apps.
John Marshall, chief executive of AirWatch, said that the benefit of Samsung’s openness was that businesses could tailor their phone’s software and also better manage the corporate fleet of phones. He said that because BlackBerry made its own I.T. management software, its flexibility was limited. BlackBerry, however, said that its approach offered higher and more consistent levels of security.
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