With its $7.2 billion agreement to buy Nokia's handset business, Microsoft is in a position to surpass Apple and Android smartphone makers in providing an enterprise-class mobile platform, experts say.
However, whether Microsoft is successful after it takes control of Nokia's assets, expected early next year, will depend on how well the tech company can integrate its mobile hardware and software with the Windows infrastructure already found in most large companies.
"They're already in there. It's just that they have to be able to extend it into the mobile world," said Stacy Crook, an analyst with IDC.
Gartner analyst Lawrence Pingree said Microsoft could certainly make security a standout feature for smartphones running the Windows Phone operating system. Once the company has control over the hardware, Microsoft could choose to work with Intel in integrating security at the chip level, which could help boost business sales, he said.
"When enterprises come [into a sales meeting], they often come in from a security perspective on mobile devices," Pingree said.
At one time, the BlackBerry set the standard for security in mobile phones, which drove business sales for years. Now that BlackBerry has been cast aside because of the popularity of smartphones running Google Android and Apple iOS, Microsoft has an opportunity to fill the security gap.
Even before the Nokia deal, Microsoft was heading in that direction. In July, the company released a feature pack for Windows Phone 8 that included technology for signing and encrypting email, automated triggering of virtual private networks at the app level, and certificate management to enroll, update and revoke certificates for user authentication.
At the integration level, Microsoft has an advantage with ActiveSync, an app it released in 1996 to synchronize data between mobile devices and desktop computers.
"Most enterprises have already adopted ActiveSync as a key component of [mobile device management] and security, so Microsoft has a natural advantage there with Windows Phone," said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates.
While Microsoft has a lot of pieces for building an enterprise-class mobile platform, a major security problem Microsoft and other mobile platform makers have yet to solve is in locking down apps.
"It's one thing to have a secure OS, but another to improve the credibility of their apps, which is one of the biggest problems right now," said Peter Byee, founder and chief executive of Security On-Demand.
Apple's tight approval process for iPhone app development is too restrictive for many businesses, while Android's openness makes controlling security difficult, Bybee said. Therefore, Microsoft is in a position to find the middle ground.
For example, the company could develop a certification process that ensures developers are writing secure code, thus making it more difficult to create malicious apps, Bybee said. In addition, Microsoft could come up with a better way to manage or limit the permissions apps get for accessing personal data and phone resources.
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