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Samsung aims to hit BlackBerry where it hurts: Business users

The Canadian company will have to do more than show up with a new product -- its former sweet spot faces an assault by well-armed rivals.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
4 min read
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins talks up the company's new OS and phones during an event today in NYC. Sarah Tew/CNET
Samsung Electronics has already landed a few blows against BlackBerry, and as far as the Korean electronics giant is concerned, it's only early rounds in this bout.

Samsung, which became the world's largest smartphone vendor more than a year ago, is ramping up its push to attract corporate users for its technology. It's putting its full might behind these efforts, and its newfound focus on business users (including this commercial bashing BlackBerry) should have BlackBerry worried.

While some business users will be clamoring for the Canadian company's BlackBerry 10-powered Z10 and Q10
smartphones, which were unveiled today, not everyone will share the same excitement. That's because an increasing number of companies allow employees to supply their own devices for use on the corporate network, known as bring your own device. And it's been awhile since that preferred personal device has been a BlackBerry.

BYOD is a big opportunity for popular consumer handset brands like Samsung and Apple, but it also poses a serious threat to BlackBerry, which has failed to appeal to buyers with its recent offerings. While the company, which today changed its official name to BlackBerry from Research In Motion, is counting on its newest devices to attract consumers and buck that trend, Apple and Samsung have a head start. Samsung believes there's an opening for attack.

"If I'm going to work for a big company, I don't want to use a legacy device that I have to hide at a cocktail party," Tim Wagner, vice president and general manager of enterprise sales at Samsung Mobile, told CNET. "I want to choose what I want, and I want my device to be the coolest thing out there. Right now we have the coolest thing out there."

Samsung's smartphone business has been on a tear, with the company recently setting an industrywide record for the number of smartphones shipped in a single quarter (Q4) and in a single year (2012), according to IDC. Samsung, which launched the Galaxy S3 in late May, sold 40 million Galaxy S3 phones in the first seven months the device was on the market. By comparison, RIM sold only 22.1 million total BlackBerrys from March to November of 2012.

Android, the main operating system powering Samsung devices, has proved less popular with businesses because it's typically viewed as fragmented and insecure. Devices run various versions of Android, and basically any app can show up in the Google Play store. Other Android-based handset makers, like Motorola Mobility, have seen only limited success in their efforts to address the business market.

While Samsung has some catching up to do, it aims to be the go-to Android device provider for business users.

"Samsung's push is to assure corporations that Samsung [Galaxy] devices meet their security requirements, make it easy for IT departments to manage those devices, and as a result continue to drive device sales," Forrester analyst Charles Golvin said.

Up close and personal with the Samsung Galaxy S3 (pictures)

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Samsung launched Samsung for Enterprise, or SAFE, technology about 18 months ago in an attempt to make its devices more business friendly. Its many features include encryption, VPN connectivity, and mobile device management capabilities such as remote wipe. Currently, SAFE is certified for three devices -- the Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 2, and Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet -- but the technology also works on about two-dozen other Samsung devices in the market.

While SAFE has been available for some time, it's unclear how much traction Samsung has gained with business users. Wagner said Samsung is seeing "significant adoption" of its devices in the enterprise, but Samsung still faces a problem with awareness. It's not exactly the first company IT departments envision when thinking about secure, enterprise tech providers.

However, Samsung has a pretty strong track record in dominating markets it enters. It took the biggest percentage of the smartphone market share only a few years after targeting the sector, and it's also gaining ground in tablets and PCs. While success with business users isn't guaranteed, Samsung believes its soaring smartphone and tablet sales, strong brand, and efforts to connect its devices together will help its efforts.

BlackBerry Q10
BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins expects the Q10 smartphone to attract business users and consumers. Sarah Tew/CNET
American Airlines is one company that has rolled out Samsung products after months of testing different devices and gathering employee feedback. Its flight attendants use Galaxy Note tablets to access customer information and gate connections, and some aircraft maintenance technicians use Galaxy Tabs to better troubleshoot and address aircraft issues. The company also offers Galaxy Tabs to business class customers to use on certain routes.

"We felt that Samsung's tablets were best suited to our enterprise environment -- plus we were able to make customizations to fit our needs," Maya Leibman, chief information officer of American Airlines, told CNET via email.

Samsung plans to roll out more business-related offerings in the coming months, Wagner said. He declined to detail the company's plans, providing only vague hints.

"In the very near term we will be announce what I believe is the most comprehensive business solution ever in the industry," he said.

IT departments and business users will "look at us differently than ever before because of the capabilities," Wagner added.

For BlackBerry's sake, it better hope that's not true.

First Look
Watch this: BlackBerry Z10: Not your father's BlackBerry