Samsung's new Galaxy S4 smartphone, which will be equipped by the company's new Know security suite, represents the first Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android-powered device to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Defense. The new security measures available from Samsung – which are, in fact named after Fort Knox and not a catchy acronym – stand as a testament against all those who once claimed that Android could never be sufficiently secure for DoD approval. While the news is a blow for rival BlackBerry (NYSE:BB), which has stood as the preferred choice of DoD personnel, it is a major win for Samsung and Google, and harbinger of things to come.
What is Knox?
For anyone not familiar with the security measures that have made BlackBerry devices so popular -- its system is named Balance -- the software allows a hard division to exist within the smartphone that partitions work apps and data from personal items. Essentially, Knox gives admin-level access to your government employer, and allows it to protect and control the sensitive data that may reside within a given smartphone. On this side of the divide, IT is able to place complex encryption, authentication requirements, time-out features, and remote access optionality, all while leaving your personal information hidden from the same watchdogs.
This feature – known as an application container – was popularized by BlackBerry, and is one of the central reasons those devices have stood alone for so long. Now that Samsung and Android have broken through, many speculate that Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS is likely to follow in short order. The application container should be well received by users, as well, because it means that the personal information – like photos, social media data, and personal contact data, will reside outside of the secure work space, and remain invisible to administrators. Each environment will have differentiated backgrounds to ensure ease of use, and no data will be enabled to cross the divide.
There are two primary ramifications of Samsung breaking through this divide -- beyond the fact that a Canadian and South Korean manufacturer are each approved, while U.S. smartphone makers have yet to catch up -- including the message to Apple, and the impact on BlackBerry. As far as Apple goes, this is another reminder to Cupertino to keep firing, because the competition is not taking a break. Seeing a weakened Apple, Samsung is coming hard.
The second, and likely more lasting impact, is the damage this news does to BlackBerry. As long as BlackBerry stood alone as the security leader in the industry, the company could claim one little fiefdom for itself. This may have relegated it to niche status, but it gave the company time to rebuild, rebrand, and survive. With this final arena penetrated by Samsung, BlackBerry is running out of ways to duck and cover.
The Google angle
While Google didn't design the Galaxy S4, its acceptance by the DoD should quiet some of the critics as to whether Android was sufficiently robust and hard-working for a government job – the dripping irony is lost on nobody. This is just one of the ways that Google is pushing back against both Apple and Samsung, as the search king fights to stay at the top of the heap. Ultimately, this is great news for Google, good news for Apple, and one more potential coffin nail for BlackBerry.