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Google-Samsung mobile container deal becomes clear

Details surrounding the new Android L enterprise mobile container have become clear, but questions remain about how Samsung Knox will compete in the EMM space and what Google will do with its new technology.

With details of the new Google-Samsung partnership for an ingrained mobile container emerging, it may soon be easier than ever for IT to manage Android devices of all hardware flavors.

Earlier this summer, the companies revealed plans to collaborate on a pre-loaded enterprise mobility container for Google's upcoming Android L operating system. Few specifics were released at the time, leading to speculation about what the partnership would mean for the future of Samsung Knox.

Now, Samsung has said its contribution to Android L will include higher-level components such as Security Enhancements for Android, the Knox framework and data separation technology from the Knox Workspace.

Samsung will retain Knox features specific to Samsung's hardware, including its TrustZone-based Integrity Measurement Architecture with kernel protection, client certificate management, Trusted Boot kernel protection extension, biometric authentication and government-certified items like a FIPS-certified crypto library.

The contributions from Samsung will allow enterprises to use third-party enterprise mobility management (EMM) products, on top of new application programming interfaces (APIs) in the Android L release anticipated for this fall. These new APIs, co-designed by Samsung and Google, are meant to drive: data and device security, IT policy and restrictions support and mobile application management, according to a Google blog post.

Are mobile containers Android's key to the enterprise?

Google is playing catch-up to Apple's iOS for enterprise supremacy, but the container approach sounds promising to administrators like Matt Kosht, an IT director at an Alaskan utility company.

"I'm a big fan of containers because they are basically transparent to the user," Kosht said. "The user doesn't care that their mail coming from the corporation is in a secure app. They care that they're getting their mail."

Meanwhile, Samsung claims it adds 200,000 new Knox users each month and will maintain complete control of the technology, according to its blog post.  Samsung has indicated no plans to change pricing of Knox from its current $3.60 per user per month, although the Android L container with Knox technology will come pre-loaded on devices.

If it's not transparent to the user, to me it's a giant fail.
Matt KoshtIT director, Alaska utility company

Although Samsung will maintain hardware-specific properties, nabbing Security Enhancements for Android is a huge win for Google, according to Eric Klein, mobile analyst with VDC Research Group in Natick, Massachusetts.

"For Google to be able to ingrain that in every Android device going forward is a pretty big deal," Klein said.

It could give non-Samsung original equipment manufacturers (OEM) an added advantage in an attempt to gain a foothold in the enterprise. Klein cited HTC as an OEM that could benefit from the new Android enterprise infrastructure.

Deep integration of the new Android enterprise technology with the user experience will be key. Google risks losing users if the difference between the work and personal spaces is too jarring, according to Kosht.

"It's kind of like forcing them to think in two worlds, and most people just don't think like that," Kosht said. "I'm all for the technology, but if it's not transparent to the user, to me it's a giant fail."

It's not clear if Samsung can continue to grow Knox EMM's user base if some of its technology is embedded in every Android device. It might take more innovation and augmentation of the current product to entice users to stick around, Klein said, although it's unclear exactly where Samsung could go with that.

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Does the proposed Android L container make you more likely to support Android devices in your environment?
This is an interesting move on behalf of Google and Samsung that are both competing and cooperating.  Customers that I have spoken with are excited about the potential of a more generally available container that support Android across OEMs.