Two separate pieces of news over the last couple of days have the potential to throw the enterprise smartphone market wide open again.
First, over the weekend Samsung confirmed that the Galaxy S4 — the next version of its flagship smartphone — is on the way, and soon. The handset will be unveiled in the middle of March in New York.
The timing of that announcement, at the start of the Mobile World Congress, will overshadow pretty much all of the subsequent announcements at the event (and shows that Samsung has learned some tricks from Apple, too).
But for the enterprise audience there was a second, just as intriguing, announcement: Samsung's 'Knox' initiative to create security hardened smartphone software that's more attractive to enterprise users.
Knox is similar to BlackBerry's Balance system in that it allows IT admins to keep employees' personal and work data apart. Samsung said that Knox incorporates Security Enhanced (SE) Android to create a container that separates business and personal use of a mobile device.
This is enforced by SE Android and encryption at the file system level, which ought to cut data leakage, viruses and malware attacks.
"Easily accessible via an icon on the home screen, the Knox container presents a variety of enterprise applications in a secure environment including email, browser, contacts, calendars, file sharing, collaboration, CRM and business intelligence applications," the company said in a statement.
Knox could be an important differentiator over most of Samsung's Android device rivals, for whom BYOD and other enterprise mobility initiatives largely take a back seat, according to Tony Cripps, devices and platforms analyst at Ovum.
It also positions Samsung well to exploit any softening in demand among enterprises and 'prosumers' for BlackBerry devices. It can also take advantage of any reluctance by businesses to deploy applications and data on Apple iOS devices, added Cripps.
Knox is expected to be available on "selected" Galaxy phones by the second quarter of this year — and according to CNET, Samsung is considering embedding Knox into the Galaxy S4.
Android's struggles in the enterprise
Right now Android is dominant in the consumer market, with Android devices accounting for around two-thirds of all smartphones bought by consumers.
But in the enterprise the iPhone is very much the smartphone of choice, with BlackBerry and Windows Phone also targeting the business market. Android has found the enterprise a tougher sell because of perceptions that Android security is weaker.
The fragmentation of Android hasn't helped either: smartphones in enterprise tend to be high-end phones because they have to do more. Indeed, a common refrain from CIOs is that there's no problem with Android devices in the enterprise, so long as they are well managed.
The S3 is already the phone that most observers would point to as Android's enterprise phone (and the one most often compared to the iPhone).
A Galaxy S4 combined with a new emphasis on enterprise management could put pressure on BlackBerry and Windows Phone in the enterprise market, although the level of pent-up demand from workers and businesses for Android in the enterprise is currently an unknown quantity.
And considering the underwhelming response to the iPhone 5, the S4/Knox combo might also put a bit of pressure on Apple to raise its game too. After a long time, the enterprise smartphone market just got exciting again.