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Podcast | API as a Stabilizer

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William Vablais Podcast | tyntec

In this episode, William Vablais from Samsung talks to Jean about developing strategic relationships between Samsung and Google as well as what role APIs play in that collaboration.

Jean:
William, welcome to the show. It's awesome to have you on the show today. I've been wanting to have an episode on how developers from different tech companies work together to deliver a business solution. And your experience with the enterprise developers and business community is just perfect for that. So can we start there? And we gave an intro in the beginning but I would love you to tell us a little more about your journey into and across the tech sector and possibly leading to what you're working on now.

William:
Great. Thanks so much, Jean. My name's William Vablais. I am actually a strategic partnership manager at Samsung. And I work out of the Mountain View office in the South Bay in San Francisco. And it's been quite a journey to actually get here, some almost 40 years actually. So that makes me almost as old as the dinosaurs. So I started out many years ago in Sun Microsystems working on catalyst programs for business and business development and worked on CDs and converting documentation from large libraries of books into CDs. And so from that I started a business. I left Sun and started a business on CD authoring.

William:
Out of that, I was asked to move over to Microsoft in Redmond, Washington from the UK. I developed a program for converting authoring and applications over from the Apple at the time to PCs. Because all the titles were on Apple and they wanted to sort of move them over to a PC. I got involved in developing a technology called CD+ or enhanced CD. And that turned into project blue book which, as many people might know in that space, the standards are defined by colored books. So green book is XA and so on. And blue book actually was multi-session. You could actually read and write to a CD. So I got involved in that early on at Microsoft. I was there for eight years. And that was a really fantastic opportunity for seeing the industry from a 30,000-foot level.

William:
And then moved out and started little startups. I got involved very early on in a company called Morpheus, which you might have heard after Napster was shut down and the peer-to-peer companies arised. And I ran that for about a year, which was very interesting. We had 15 million online users at any one time, day or night. That was before Facebook was around, by the way.

William:
After that, I went off and did a few other startups and moved into Blackberry. I ran developer relations for Blackberry for [inaudible 00:03:41], so all of the European space, for a couple of years in the time when we were moving over to BB10, the new operating system. That was an extremely exciting environment. And from there, I moved over to Samsung. And that was five years ago. And I've been with Samsung in various positions every since.

Jean:
Thank you for that. Now, I'm going to ask you to kind of look quickly back into some of the recent projects and past projects you've been working on. And if you were to think about what really drives tech companies actually to partner with others despite some fundamental differences and even risks sometimes, that they do this, what's really driving them to do this?

William:
So over the period of years, lots of companies have tried to do things on their own. They've tried to own the space that they're in. They wanted to own the developers. They wanted to own the platform. They wanted to just own everything. And it turns out that they can't be successful if they try doing that. And so, as a result, you find that the most successful companies actually provide mechanisms for developers to connect into their technologies to make that technology, their solution, wider, to a wider audience from what it means by developing applications. So what I mean by that is you find a company today that might have a database application, and so take Oracle for example. And Oracle's a database. Great. What does it do? It's a database. It stores information in the back, in your cloud, right? But just saying they're a database company is taking away from what they've done to create an ecosystem, what they call an ecosystem of developers and business providers that provide front ends to that database. So the database is just a means to an end.

William:
But what really drives solution is what these companies have built so that they end-user can actually use it. So how they do that is they provide a front end, they provide the intelligence, the business logic behind how the solution might operate. And then they plug in the database in the back end. And so now it's not just a database but it's a full solution from the front end all the way through the back, and so on. And to do that, Oracle was very smart about providing APIs for the developers to be able to plug into the database functionality so that they could actually use what essentially is... Sounds generic but it isn't because there's a lot of horsepower, a lot of development work going on in the background that they may not be aware of.

William: 
So with those APIs, they tend to stabilize what's going on. So developers can write to these stabilized interface while a company, like Oracle for example, can be busy working on developing distributed databases, doing things that developers won't see but they will still support these APIs because they're stable throughout different revisions of the product, and so on. So that means that the applications that use those APIs can now be guaranteed that they're going to continue to operate because those calls to the APIs don't change over a period of time, right? So it allows for stability, it allows for maintenance, that these companies can be comfortable in understanding that when they make a call it continues to operate the same way as it has been in the past. And they don't have to keep developing code because someone's changed the underlying technology. As technology moves so quickly, you need something stable in between. So that's what the API does.

Time: 8:10

Jean:
William, you started out talking about Oracle's example. Can you perhaps compare how it was working back then versus how Samsung is working with Google these days? Do we see any difference?

William:
No, I don't see that there's a difference in the way that companies work with developers as such. What we find is certain companies, such as Samsung for example, will provide a solution if a solution isn't available to them. So the [inaudible 00:08:49] Android, which when it first came out it was coined as the Swiss cheese of operating systems because it was an opensource environment. It wasn't particularly secure and it wasn't really taken seriously by businesses because of its lack of security. And it's taken a lot of iterations, almost five years, for it to be fully adopted by the business community. And, over that period, it's gone through a number of evolutions, right?

William: 
One of the biggest evolutions was that because there was no security, Samsung, back in 2014, actually 2013, threw 6,000 engineers at the problem. And, within 12 months, they came out with Knox 1.0 which was essentially a secure platform that was actually built into from the ground up, from the hardware through the ability for the hardware to monitor boot loaders and things like that for making sure that there was no issues with someone tampering with the hardware itself all the way through to the software layers in the operating system and onto the application layers as well, providing a rich environment for workspace to be separated in terms of both operating and using data in applications and separating those applications out, and being able to manage that remotely through a mobile management environment, a EMM, as they call it, and enterprise mobility management system.

William:
So, throughout that, we found that Samsung had to go and build their own solution for industries that were seeking a secure environment. Come 2014, Google realized that they needed a secure solution, a generic one, and acquired a company called Divide. And Divide was a solution that was running on Android at the time. And out of that came what we now know as Android Enterprise. And that is the Android or Google's equivalent of their security environment. So now we have two security systems operating on a platform running Android, either Android Enterprise on a Samsung or Knox running on a Samsung. So it was causing a little bit of confusion for customers in the B2B space.

William:
And so over a period of 18 months, probably a little longer than that, Samsung and Google's engineering teams started working together to combine the operation of a secure platform and engineer a secure platform based on Knox that would run on Samsung. And so what they did was they re-engineered the environment so that on a Samsung device, which already had evolved into the number one security platform for mobile devices, they then took the functionality of what Google was providing and the functionality that Samsung already provided and allowed both the Google component and the Samsung component to work on this new platform that understood and supported the APIs of both.

Jean:
Walk us through a little because that is exactly what our audience loves knowing about. Because, at the end of the day, you have this employee using a device and how those decisions are made is totally hidden from it. The mechanism in which how Google and Samsung are making the decision. And I'm just imagining a lot of people finally realizing, "Hey, we created a problem for our customer," enterprises in this case, and how the decision was made, how the collaboration gets started, how the technology plays a role in there. Anything you want to talk about in terms of how the whole process got started and went on?

William:
Yeah, so it's actually a very hard engineering problem. The challenge is that you have two differing philosophies, if you like. In security specifically, that is a difficult nut to crack in terms of Android as well. Because Android is an operating system that's really built on trying to share everything, trying to share resources, "Let's all get on together. This is an application that's going to run, then we're going to have to let this application have the resources it needs to be able to run and how to do that," and so on. And that's its philosophy. But when you say security, you're actually taking away all of that. You don't want an application to just say, "Well, I need to be able to access your database and your mobile phone contacts and all the other things," right? So you don't want them to access it. So you're already at odds with the technology itself and the way that it's being put together. So that's one thing.

William:
The second thing is differing security application work differently, either from an architectural level, from a philosophical level in terms of do you encrypt the files individually, do you encrypt the data individually, do you encrypt the stream? How does it go through? And so those have to be decided. And then you have the overall picture, which is how does the end-user interact with this? You've got two different environments with two different UIs, how are you going to unify the UIs together to actually make them look and feel transparent to the end-user, right?

William:
And so the whole process in the background took on a life of its own. We had engineering teams in Mountain View who were developing the Knox components and were able to work with Google folks literally across the road. You can throw a rock across 101 and they're on the other side of the 101 actually. And the folks on the other side were developing the Android Enterprise components were based in London. So that's where all their security engineering teams are based, as well as the UI teams based in New York and South Korea. Meetings would be on average 20 people, 30 people at a time calling in from all over the world dealing with what color the shield is going to look like in the top right-hand corner and what happens to it when you actually have connected the application with the right license key, the shield changes shape and color, and so on.

William: 
So there are nuances in details that would take... Well, it took, on one particular occasion, two months to decide what color we were going to have [inaudible 00:16:53]. And that was multiple meetings across different time zones. And we're talking 12 time zones here, organizing the teams from all over the world to jump in on a phone call, first of all, like we're doing today, you're in Munich and I'm here in the Midwest. And multiply that 30 times and you're getting an idea of how complex a project like this becomes on keeping everybody on track and [inaudible 00:17:28].

Jean:
So, at the end of the day, if in fact there was an end of the day, how happy were you in terms of how the team walked away from the collaboration? Did you feel that you achieved what you set out to do?

William: 
Oh yeah, absolutely. It's out there in the real world right now. And no one's the wiser because it's transparent and it was distributed and deployed with little or no fuss. And it was a very challenging and very satisfying engineering project. I think everyone's delighted with it. Because, at the end of the day, you have to understand that Samsung and Google don't create just one operating system or just one built. Samsung actually, if you go to samsung.com, has many, many products on there just in the mobile space, right? You've got S10s, S5Gs, Notes, Note 9, Note 8, Note 8+. You've got an A series, which is an A50 or an A6. They have a Fold which is the folding phone. They have versions of each of those that run with different carriers, which also have to have different builds. Each of those products have to be tested, have to be compliant, have to be certified, have to work on the carrier, have to work with the carrier teams so that each carrier certifies that they will sign off that that particular product will be allowed to be used on that carrier network, and so on and so on.

Time: 19:21

Jean:
I am not going to ask you how many SKU numbers are in Samsung’s database. But actually let's have a little fun with this because our audience loves really finding out what's really happening on their phone. It's like an obsession. And I'm expecting Samsung to really know what is winning, especially on their home screen. So a quick vote, informed vote from you, what is winning? We talked about security over freedom to be able to add and share data, what is winning? Which one would you say as of now?

William: 
Well, in the B2B space, I think there's a lot of BYOD going on. So they're letting employees bring their own devices in which brings its own challenges to the table because any IT group would probably want a homogenous, only one device and that they're controlling everything on it type of environment. But then again, there's no one size fits all. In highly competitive and regulated industries, then actually it becomes easier because they tend to be more specific and not allow BYOD. In less regulated environments such as not the financial sector or government, then I think it's fairly open to interpretation and people are more lenient to it. And that's really what's happening.

William:
The other thing is a lot of the security is moving off the mobile endpoint, as we call it, the device, the mobile device, and is now migrating to the cloud itself. So applications running on the cloud, cloud devices, cloud services and so on. So a lot of security is being handled back there as opposed to being there.

Jean:
And how does that change a lot of things that a lot of consumers waste their time on like user authentication? Because even these days I spend a fair amount of time entering passcodes and things like that. How does that change?

William:
Well, yes, passcodes, they're kind of old hat really. You've got endpoints now on mobile devices with multiple mechanisms of bio authentication. So you have some thumb prints, you have the face recognition, you have iris recognition which works a hundred times faster than face recognition and is more accurate. And yet people don't use it. They're still stuck in '70s technology, which is passwords, when really you're carrying around this device and it should be able to authenticate you from many, many ways. And so you are your device. So a lot of the things happening in some more forward-thinking companies are the introduction of not using a password at all, knowing you by the way that you interact with the applications, how they're being used and so on. You leave a trail, a usage trail, on the device that defines a profile like you. You use that application a much different way than somebody else might use it. And AI applications can see that sort of operating log and make a pretty good decision on the fact that, yes, you are who you say you are because you're using the application, you're using the mobile device exactly how you've been using it in the past way.

Jean:
Although I'm fascinated by this whole behavioral authentication, I want to ask you one more thing. Because the inbox, that really tends to be a killer app for many phones, that's another thing that we kind of get a little confused about as to who is winning. So let's say for work environment, email versus collaboration app, which one is winning?

William:
It really depends on what space you're in and the company that you're working in. So I know many companies that are using things like Slack for collaboration and they have essentially a Facebook-like environment where they can share documents and information and so on. So that works very well for larger teams or teams that want to collaborate on specifics but still want to play in a bigger space. But, again, email is the platform of choice when you're communicating with someone outside of your safe zone, your Slack zone, right? So it means that at the end of the day companies have to communicate outside of their environments, and they use email to do that. Yes, there are a number of alternatives that are starting to appear but I think it'll be a while before we see the last of the email and the inbox.

Jean:
Then one more thing, this could be more of an outside of work kind of use, but social channel versus private messaging, what do you think?

William: 
The social channels have been very popular and very successful. But I see that out of that have grown companies providing mechanisms for collaboration after these social channels, right? So private messaging, again, one-to-one or the types of messaging that we're starting to see, which is privately, in terms of departments, in terms of keeping a corporate exposure to small teams, that's more interesting to me since I'm working in the unified communication space right now. I'm seeing a lot of interest in that. But, again, there is no one size fits all. I don't see a generic winner takes all here. So it's going to take some time before one is established over the rest. And I don't see that yet. It's going to be a while before that happens.

Jean:
This will probably be my last question because you mentioned unified communications. I'm assuming you are talking with a lot of businesses who are thinking of throwing that in. Is there any common reasons why companies want to do this and their big ask for companies like Samsung to do? Is there something you can share?

William:
So I've been working with unified communications companies now for probably six to nine months. Out of that, some interesting things are falling out of the bushes here. One is the ability to communicate with a mobile workforce at any one time and being able to integrate that with video, with documentation, with shared workspaces as well. So, for example, there's a great example that I came across which is a company called Waste Management. They're the ones who pick up the garbage from your home pretty much across the country right now, in the US anyway. They have something like 30,000 trucks on the road at any one time. So they started out looking at driver safety and looking as to how to keep their drivers from some hazardous materials and things like that, but also using a device that could also take a photograph of where their garbage collection was so that they could say, "Okay, well we couldn't pick the garbage collection from that location because there was a car parked in front of it and we couldn't get to it," right? And so there was a reason for taking the photograph. It was a business decision.

William:
So after that, they thought, "Well, this is a platform that we have in the cab of the truck, what else can we have on there?" So they now have a GPS that's being generated by the tablet that's in there. They also have a unified communications application from a company called Fuze which provides video and text messaging and audio and shared documentation and so on. And it's all part of that solution. So a tablet which might of made its way into a vehicle didn't turn out to be a tablet at all but an actual platform that was used for many different functions as a result of being in a mobile office, if you like. And so the ability for people to use this in a much more flexible way is what's happening right now. And I think that's what we're seeing as well.

Time: 29:11

Jean:
I simply love that kind of examples where the designers initially didn't even think of that kind of use, and somehow users just find a way to use it.

William: 
Right.

Jean:
And somehow that turns into a killer app and more development comes out of it. So thanks for sharing that. Now, is there any resources that you want people to check out to perhaps follow what you are working on next?

William:
Yeah, they can certainly go to the samsung.com. And if they go to samsung.com/dex, that will show them a nice B2B solution that we're working on right now which allows for a mobile phone to be connected directly to an HDMI connection, so any TV or monitor, and suddenly the phone becomes a desktop experience. And so it'll run all the Android applications but in full screen, not in a small screen, and also allow you to if you need legacy applications that run in that PC environment, you can run a VDI, which is another window on the screen, and you can run a PC instance, Windows 10 running inside a window, and you can go back and forth and run that. It looks just like you're running a PC but it's all being run from your phone. That's the application I'm working on. And the applications are being optimized to do that.

William:
And going back to the original question, the APIs, the APIs, to do that, are actually opensource APIs from Google, not from Samsung. So they allow for the use of a keyboard and a mouse to be able to interact with the applications on the screen just like a PC would be, right? As opposed to the normal way of interacting if it was on a mobile phone with your finger on a touchscreen, right? So it changes the input method and allows you to have a fully rich experience on the screen. So that's the dex side.

William:
And then for developers, they should go to two places. Developersofsamsung.com is where the developer community would go to for the SDKs, toolkits and all things developers. And also seap.samsung.com is the B2B registration site for developers who want to get access to B2B SDKs as well.

Jean:
Awesome. Now, before I let you go, just a little fun we have. And I'm going to ask you to name the three things you use the most on your phone.

William:
Well, I find myself using Google Maps almost every other minute to find out where I'm going so my internal GPS has shut down in favor of Google Maps. So I use that all the time. And I kind of like it because it gives me all sorts of other information. The other day it told me that there was a police speed trap ahead for some reason so that was really good. So I slowed down there. I use WhatsApp quite a lot as a back channel for talking to my friends and also for all my connections within the European space. It's pretty much the go-to app for Europe for people working and collaborating in Europe, for whatever reason. I don't know. Certain parts of the world seem to have locked on to a particular favorite app. And that seems to be the one for Europe I suppose.

William:
The last one I've used, and it's just a personal one I use, is a company that I came across called Nucleus. You can find them somewhere as Nucleus Life, and it's literally this little tablet that I had to use for my mother who is 89 years old and she lives in Spain. And I call her on a daily basis and it's really easy for her because there are no buttons on it. I can initiate the call so she doesn't have to fumble around with a tablet at the other end. I've tried that in the past and it lasted for about five minutes before she'd be into the setups and things like that and I'd lost her forever. So that's kind of what I use.

Jean:
That's awesome. Thank you. So except Google Maps, it's notable that both of them are communications app, WhatsApp and Nucleus, which I must check out. So thanks again, William. That's it for today.

William:
Thank you very much, Jean.

Profile picture for user Jean By Jean Shin
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