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Knox integration could be the key to Android in the enterprise

Security concerns are one of the main roadblocks to Android penetration in the enterprise. Now that Knox is integrating with Android, will the enterprise bite?

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Sundar Pichai, Google's head of Android, Chrome and Apps.
 Image: James Martin/CNET

Samsung Knox has long been one of the go-to solutions for enterprise Android users looking to boost security on their devices. Now, it seems all Android users will have access to the security features provided by Knox.

On Wednesday, June 25, during the opening keynote address for the Google I/O developer conference, Sundar Pichai, Google's head of Android, Chrome, and Apps, announced that Samsung would be contributing it's Knox software to the Android platform.

"Samsung has done a lot of important work in this area with Knox," Pichai said. "And, we really want to thank Samsung, they are contributing all of their work in Knox to the Android platform so we have one consistent story for enterprise across Android."

Samsung made one of the first steps toward increasing adoption of Knox by making its Knox 2.0 Workspace platform available on Galaxy S5 phones worldwide earlier this year. Now, in conjunction with the release of Android "L" Android users will have access to the data separation capabilities that allow a personal and corporate identity to coexist on a single device.

"The next version of Android will offer enterprise customers the ability to separate and protect corporate data on an Android smartphone or tablet using a managed profile; access a robust suite of productivity tools; and deploy any app from Google Play for business use," a Google spokesperson said. "We are building a framework to make it easy for enterprise developers and ISVs to build custom business apps. For existing Android devices, we will also be incorporating these features into a downloadable app available though Google Play."

Samsung's relationship with Google is wrought with ups and downs. While Samsung realizes its dependency on Android, it has started to try to diversity its OS offerings for emerging markets by investing in the open source OS Tizen.

According to gartner's Ken Dulaney, Samsung knows that it can't bring Android fully into the enterprise on its own.

"Samsung did this because they realize that to advance ahead of Apple in the enterprise, those Android vendors who wish to focus on the enterprise must work together," Dulaney said.

Dulaney mentioned that Knox is made up of two distinct parts: a secure boot feature that makes sure the security is intact when the phone is booted from a sleep state, and APIs that control how the phone behaves and help to implement the higher level security feature. Dulaney believes that the APIs will likely be what Google ends up contributing to the Android source pool.

It's also interesting to note that, because Knox plays into the behavior of the phone itself, Google could see this integration as a way to help build a consistent experience for business users, which is another common complaint from the enterprise. Pichai might have been referring to this when he said, "one consistent story."

While there was mention of features for work during the keynote, it's unclear whether or not Google will brand a device as being "work ready" or not. Dulaney said that it would be in Google's best interest to do this as it would clarify which Android devices were ready for the enterprise and could potentially bring a premium price point.

According to a Google spokesperson, the features will be native in the new "L" OS, but users of older versions will need to download an app to obtain some of the features.

"The enterprise features will be integrated natively in Android "L", which will be released later in the year, and will run on "L" devices with the necessary hardware components. We will also be making the downloadable app available later this year for devices that cannot support these new enterprise features natively." a Google spokesperson said.

According to Dulaney the lack of details might mean this was a last minute deal, but he expects we will know more by this coming August.

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Conner Forrest is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. He covers Google and startups and is passionate about the convergence of technology and culture.

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