Samsung DeX: The Future of Enterprise Computing?

by David Krebs | 04/05/2017

Samsung has long viewed the enterprise market as a strategic growth priority for its popular Galaxy line of smart mobile devices. However, while Samsung has sat atop the global smartphone share charts, this has not always translated into enterprise sector success.  For example, while Samsung’s overall smartphone share in the US is around 28%, its share of the enterprise smartphone market is estimated by VDC Research at 17%. Much of this can be attributed to the continued concerns enterprises have around the security and stability of Android to access enterprise resources. However, solutions such as Samsung’s KNOX and Google’s Android for Work initiatives are breaking down these barriers and providing enterprises with the requisite tools to confidently develop Android solutions.

With the recent launch of the S8 Samsung also unveiled some interesting enterprise solutions, most notably Samsung DeX.

What is Samsung DeX?
The Samsung DeX is a docking device that provides an Android-based desktop experience and allows workers to access apps, documents, videos, messages, and web browsers all directly from your smartphone while being connected on a larger display. The docking device is about the size of a hockey puck, has fast phone charging capabilities, 2 USB 2.0, Ethernet, a USB type-C power-in and a cooling fan. Also important to note that in addition to receiving enterprise support from Citrix, VMware, and Amazon, Samsung has worked with both Microsoft and Adobe to customize apps for the desktop experience.

The DeX solution is designed to create a more productive work environment with a redesigned Android UI that can be used with a keyboard and mouse, and Samsung’s security platform KNOX is built into the phone to protect end-user’s smartphones and data. This is perhaps the most critical aspect of the solution as the end result is a more intuitive desktop experience rather than mirroring the smartphone image on the display. Additional unique functionality is the contextual menu and multitasking capabilities, the ability to extend security features native to the S8 like iris scanning to the desktop and the integrated live settings and notifications capabilities.

Citrix and VMWare Partnerships Add Enterprise Validity to Solution
What is somewhat unclear is who the ultimate market is for DeX. With Continuum Microsoft has identified emerging markets that lack the existing PC infrastructure as a viable target market (although that has not prevented HP with its high priced Elite X3 from going after the enterprise market). With DeX it is less clear who the primary customer is, at least initially. Clearly prosumers are being targeted. However, a key question is if they even need or want an Android desktop experience.

Many enterprise workers today rely on their smartphones to complete work, but they eventually turn to a desktop or laptop when they need to access windows or browser based apps. Although VDI and app virtualization can run Windows applications on smartphones, it doesn’t translate as well on the smartphone screen. As such, launch partners VMWare and Citrix have enabled their solutions so that virtualized Windows apps and desktops can be accessed via the S8/DeX. For example, with both VMware Workspace ONE and VMware Horizon, the new Samsung Galaxy 8 smartphone with Samsung DeX can deliver a common digital workspace experience when end-users access their Windows desktops and applications in the office, or Windows, mobile and cloud applications on-the-go. This also addresses the key issue of being able to target/support the prevalent Win32 apps via a Android device (although the compromise the user experience of virtualized apps). This was demonstrated at the recent launch event and what was impressive was the lack of any significant or perceivable lag or latency in working with this configuration.

Haven’t We Seen This Before?
While Samsung and their group of partners see the DeX as the next “big” device that can convert the smartphone into a functional desktop experience, many questions remain. As was widely reported following the DeX lauch, this is not the first attempt at bridging the smartphone-desktop divide. Motorola’s Webtop was a frequently referenced similar solution that ultimately did not live up to its expectations. The concept was eventually killed by Google after no results were created due to the lack of mainstream attention for the solution, inaccurate pricing ($500 initially), not a large enough market, and inability to use Android Apps with the desktop. Motorola also cited that the adoption within the market was not strong enough to continuing investing their resources in this docking device, and also noted that more recent Android builds have begun to adopt similar desktop features. Overall, it seems like Motorola showed up to early to the game, and didn’t have the market, pricing, and technical advantages to launch their mobility Weptop successfully.

Microsoft’s efforts around Continuum are also based on a similar value proposition in that it was envisioned to support a seamless application experience across multiple platforms. Originally designed to transform a Windows 10 smartphone into a full desktop PC, the solution hasn’t been able to gain enough traction within the market. This solution is still being updated and worked on today, and Microsoft remains bullish about its prospects, especially in certain segments of the market with low PC penetration. Continuum is of course still an incomplete project and a niche solution, but it will be interesting to see how they evolve and continue to differentiate this type of product from their competitors. Microsoft’s biggest challenge now and in the future is developing Continuum to run with Android Apps, and expanding their smartphone market share to draw more enterprise customers towards Continuum. The next will introduce improvements to overall performance and also windowed apps, a key missing capability today.

So Where Does that Leave Samsung DeX?
DeX is unique and the capabilities of the solution as evidenced by the demos is impressive, for sure. Moreover, and thanks in part to the performance of the S8, with DeX Samsung has leapfrogged its competitors. However, is it hard to judge how large the opportunity ultimately is, what the appropriate price point (rumored to be $150), business model and sales channel is for this product. In all likelihood this will be a slow burner with some early adopters paving the way. Some of the more critical challenges we foresee with DeX include:

  • Desktop browser – the desktop mode on this type of device looks very similar to the Chrome Operating System, but actually isn’t. Adobe and Microsoft Apps work, but the appearance on the desktop is not ideal and looks stretched at times.
  • System issues – Samsung plans on doing the windowing themselves, which means that the app windows will disappear when the Galaxy S8 is disconnected, but won’t reappear when you plug the device back in.
  • Connectivity - Connection reliability is crucial for the Apps to stream and work properly, and many users won’t have the appropriate local network connections for these apps to work 100%.
  • Market adoption – Market adoption is seen as a huge headwind for Samsung, and convincing enterprise workers to adopt this type of device is key to expanding the overall market. Companies aren’t willing to invest their resources in a device that doesn’t have the best access to Windows Apps and Operating systems.
  • Android - Android was not originally intended to be a desktop Operating System, so this means that Samsung has to make significant UI changes and maintenance for the Galaxy S8 to consistently connect to the PC. Moreover, enterprises are not clamoring to “run” Android on desktops.
  • Compatibility – DeX is unique and represents a capability not currently well satisfied. However, is it sufficient to drive standardization on the S8 for enterprise smartphones? Probably not. Addressing cross platform compatibility and future proofing the solution will represent key requirements moving forward.
  • App gap – Traditional Android apps do not generally scale that well when rendered on a full display. In addition, the only approach to supporting Win32 apps with DeX is through virtualization.
  • Cultural Issues – While the majority of the technology issues are being addressed with this docking device, there are still cultural issues that are present within the company and workers. People may be so use to using desktops / laptops that they become dependent on it, and have difficulty transitioning into a new kind of system.
  • Security – Many businesses will require a much safer operating system if they are going to end up using Android. Samsung will have to and have already began working with these companies to create secure and safe solutions. They already have established Knox (Security platform) so most of the groundwork is already present.

With Nick Elia

View the 2017 Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices Research Outline to learn more.

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