Samsung is building its own Android platform for the enterprise
As RIM tries to reinvent itself with BlackBerry 10 and Microsoft tries to gain a secure foothold in the smartphone market with Windows Phone, we're often told that one of those two platforms will emerge as the eventual third platform that might rival the marketshare of iOS and Android. Often an appeal to business and enterprise users is seen as part of the lure that will carry one of these platforms forward.
While it's reasonable to debate which of these platforms might that mythical third platform, that debate stems from a false assumption that the mobile space is currently dominated by just two platforms (iOS and Android). I'm not saying that there's some hidden platform out there. Rather, it's becoming increasingly difficult to consider Android as a single platform.
The open nature of Android has caused it to diversify across an incredible range of devices. With so much diversity, some forks of Android can credibly considered to be their own platform. The Kindle Fire and Nook tablets are Android-based, meaning that Android is doing the heavy lifting, but their interfaces, app markets,and setup processes have been tailored so much that for practical purposes, most people don't consider them to be Android devices.
A new kind of Android fork
Another company is beginning to develop its own platform based on Android as well. In this case, however, it isn't differentiating itself based on its interface or app/content stores. Instead, this new Android-based platform is being built around the ability to secure, manage, and integrate with key enterprise systems in ways that go beyond what Google builds into the stock versions of Android.
The company building this new platform is Samsung and that platform is the company's SAFE (Samsung Approved For Enterprise) program.
Samsung is the biggest Android manufacturer on the planet and it offers a very complete range of Android devices, many of them designed for the consumer market. With Apple's iOS devices take the mobile enterprise crown from RIM and the BlackBerry, Samsung developed its own strategy for getting its own slice of the enterprise pie.
In order to compete against Apple in the business and enterprise market, Samsung chose to address a core Android issue: the platform's fragmentation. Fragmentation is a general Android headache with dozens of manufacturers making hundreds of different devices, many of which get tweaked by manufacturers and carriers. That diversity means that not every device will support the same security and management features.
It also means that the Android update cycle for existing devices is long and complex, meaning there's rarely a clear timeline for when a given update will reach a given device on a given carrier. All to often, there are devices that simply stop getting major Android updates or even smaller patches.
Fragmentation of this type or on this scale simply doesn't happen with iOS because Apple develops the OS, builds the hardware, and prevents carriers from tweaking either. Apple also releases a new major iOS update every year that, on average, supports the past two generations of hardware. The bulk of important security and management capabilities were baked into iOS 4. iOS 5 and 6 included just a handful of additional mobile management policies. That means the vast majority of iOS devices ever made can be a pretty good fit for enterprises. In many ways, Apple's model isn't that far off from the model that allowed RIM to be so successful for many years.
Samsung's SAFE program, developed with some of the top mobile management vendors and carriers creates a uniform baseline standard that meets key enterprise needs including deep integration with Exchange, on device encryption, broad VPN support, and mobile device management (MDM) with a broad range of supported policies.
Samsung creates the hardware for the program and integrates a wide range of MDM policy capabilities into the Android OS that will run on that hardware. In doing so, the company puts in far more MDM capabilities than are found on other Android devices including its own security APIs. In certifying devices, MDM suites, and other enterprise vendors like networking giants Juniper and Cisco, Samsung has create a secure and enterprise-grade Android ecosystem.
Walking the middle ground
In many ways, the SAFE program is a blend of the approaches that RIM and Apple have taken towards business sector. RIM delivered a product that could be managed and secured with over 500 policies using the company's BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). That delivered a very secure environment, one that IT and security professionals welcomed. It also positioned RIM as a single vendor for smartphones and related management infrastructure.
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