Suddenly, it's Google vs. Samsung for Android security

Google buys a dual-persona security provider in a signal it's finally taking Android security seriously

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The wrong technology, but the right battle for Android
Still, even if dual-persona mobile security is dying, there's a war brewing in the Android world over whether Google makes real security and manageability part and parcel of Android -- which IT would love -- or Samsung gets it right and establishes Android enterprise dominance before Google gets its act together, if it ever does. IT would easily live with a Samsung hegemony, given the company's huge market share, if Samsung showed it could actually deliver on security and management needs -- and stick with it for the long term.

That's the real issue here, not whether Divide and Knox end up being Android's paths to enterprise acceptance. Google has gained little trust in IT, for good reason. Samsung got Defense Department approval last year for Knox but squandered that blessing through a botched deployment.

On one level, neither Google nor Samsung seems in a position to execute on a security and management strategy that would compare to Apple's. They have bigger problems.

Samsung's been wobbly on several fronts. The newest Galaxy, the S5, poorly copied Apple's Touch ID technology while not moving the needle forward in other areas -- people think "tacky back" when they think of the S5, not "cool smartphone." Samsung has visibly retreated from its grand innovation ambitions of spring 2013, when it put on a Broadway show to introduce its fantastical vision of the connected home. This year, in a subdued presentation, its CEO emphasized practicality and a move away from "innovation for innovation's sake." Samsung's smartwatch efforts have been embarrassing. Its strategy of copying Apple products has largely failed except for the smartphone and tablet; its Apple TV and iPod Touch clones went nowhere, for example, and even its decent tablets do poorly in the business world in comparison to the iPad. All in all, Samsung feels like it's flailing from one half-baked idea to the next.

Google has had its own problems, not least of which is that Android innovation has largely stalled since 2011's Version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, as Google seems more interested in developing applications designed to hoover up data from any platform (à la Google Now) than pushing Android itself to new heights. Its device focus seems to be shifting to the five-year-old Chrome OS, but its cloud services remain unable to handle serious business needs.

However distrusted Google is and how wobbly Samsung seems to be, the fact is that it will take one of these companies to make Android security trustworthy enough for broad business use. Even with the help of mobile-management tools, Android simply can't hold a candle to iOS or BlackBerry when it comes to security and manageability. And Microsoft keeps improving Windows Phone, which is now approaching respectable levels.

Google and Samsung are the two companies that have the means and reach to change that situation. HTC and Sony are barely hanging on, and Lenovo's strategy in acquiring Motorola Mobility from Google is unclear, but even if it has Samsung-level ambitions, it will take several years to realize them. Despite all the talk about emerging Chinese giants such as Xiaomi, they don't matter a whit in North America or Europe; they're completely consumer-focused anyhow.

The very fact that Google is investing in Android security is significant. If it follows through with more of the same, we'll see Google and Samsung vie to fix Android's security shortcomings before the other. Whoever gets it right first and delivers the technology broadly will dominate Android in business. If Google does it, the whole platform wins. If Samsung does it, Samsung wins and gains more ability essentially to fork Android by making its services push out Google's. If neither does it, Apple keeps its current win.

However it turns out, this is a fight that needs to happen. For business, Android needs to get serious -- or get out of the way.

This article, "Suddenly, it's Google vs. Samsung for Android security," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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