A new Android world order emerges for enterprises

Microsoft's alliance with Samsung and its resurging smartphone ambitions are reshaping the enterprise battle lines versus the iPhone.

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If tradition continues in San Francisco, Samsung will roll out what has historically been the latest version of its Galaxy S flagship. Throughout the year, we see many innovations by a host of Android smartphone companies. Among those companies, Samsung isn't always first to market. But it is always first in market impact.

This year, though, the competitive landscape will look a bit different amidst a curious and tenuous Android alliance among Google, Samsung and platform newcomer Microsoft. In a bygone era, these three companies would be natural partners with each focusing on its respective strength of services, hardware, and software. Now, though, things are a lot more complicated with all three companies operating to an extent and by necessity in all three areas while each, including Google with Chrome OS, having a hand in an Android competitor.

Despite this, the trio is united by a common rival in Apple, which continued to show the strong appeal of the iPhone in the fourth quarter directly and via its ability to drive wearables tightly integrated its smartphone. As services-driven ecosystem vendors, Microsoft and Google broadly support the iPhone while working within the limits they of Apple's home turf. But the most important link among the three powerhouses is between Microsoft and Samsung.

The Surface Duo is a novel concept with an emphasis on productivity that we will learn more about as its release draws near. That Microsoft is even returning to the handset market says much about its long-game support of the Surface team behind it. Even in a best-case scenario, it will surely take some time for the company to gain a solid footing in Android and for software vendors to optimize for the Duo's defining screen configuration. But, true to Microsoft's Surface business approach in PCs, the arrival of its dual-screened smartphone will do little to slow the strengthening partnership between Microsoft and Samsung on smartphones. While Microsoft has yet to sell a single Surface Duo, Samsung is selling millions of devices per quarter into businesses and to businesspeople.

Take, for example, its recently introduced ruggedized Galaxy XCover Pro handset, which extends the design approach of its Galaxy Tab Active tablets to a handheld device. Hardened on the outside by an exterior that can withstand military standard tests and on the inside by Samsung's Knox architecture, it is a portal to feeding a host of Azure-driven cloud applications. The smartphone's website highlights the Samsung steps up B2B game, launches Galaxy XCover Pro with Microsoft Teams integrated as a conduit for voice conversations. Microsoft's competition versus Slack and AWS ultimately represent more revenue potential for the company than the difference in a few percentage points of Android market share. While millions of iPhones will also feed those key Microsoft business applications and Apple doesn't compete directly against Teams or Azure, none of them will come preloaded with Teams and none of them have kind of integrated protective housing as the XCover Pro.

The XCover Pro is a relative of Samsung's enterprise handset activity, dwarfed by Galaxy Ss, Galaxy Notes, and a future that includes all manner of shape-shifting pocket devices. Both Samsung and Microsoft need Google to lay the Android foundation for a new generation of devices that feature the strongest differentiation from the iPhone in years. Google's lack of support for dual-screened devices to date has resulted in poor Android app support for such devices. Microsoft's arrival on Android has been a catalyst for that and, as the new Edge browser shows, the company can make impressive products building on Google's core technologies.

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