Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad 2 didn’t make the computer tablet cut with Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). Saying that the proposed iPad 2 purchase was inconsistent with standard procedures for IT purchases, the command cancelled plans to buy almost 2,900 iPad 2s.
Apple’s mobile OS, iOS, which is used on both the iPhone and iPad 2, has not yet passed security clearance for use by the federal government, although Apple is working with the Department of Defense and other government agencies to meet their security requirements.
AFSOC wants to use computer tablets in place of bulky, paper-based flight and technical manuals, which can weigh up to 40 pounds. Capt. Kristen Duncan, the command’s spokesperson, told InformationWeek that “AFSOC’s goal is to provide…an Electronic Flight Bag that is equally cost effective, secure and provides the best technological capability available to our airmen.” She added that the cancellation has nothing to do with reports about a procurement requirement that the Russian-developed GoodReader software be used with the devices.
Still looking for tablets, but perhaps not iPads
The command had planned to purchase 2,861 black iPad 2 devices from an authorized Apple reseller to maintain and update the DOD’s Flight Information Publications via a “global electronic update infrastructure. The cancellation doesn’t affect AFSOC’s plans to buy tablets. Nor does it affect another potential iPad purchase for military use, by the Air Force Mobility Command, which said earlier this month it planned to issue a purchase proposal to buy between 63 and 18,000 iPads or other “brand name or equal devices.”
Given the security concerns cited above, however, it’s hard to believe that Apple is a top contender in that procurement battle as well. Air Force Special Operations and the Air Force Mobility Command work in tandem, and both have the same reasons for wanting the tablets.
AFSOC’s security concerns might offer hope to Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), whose Blackberry PlayBook tablet already is certified for use by U.S. government agencies. And RIM is working hard to make the tablet more appealing by updating its software and apps. The Department of Defense also has approved Dell‘s (NASDAQ:DELL) Android-based mobile OS for use on its network. The certification was completed in 2010 on Dell’s Streak 5 computer tablet, which is no longer available commercially. Future tablets running on Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 software also may meet the Air Force’s flight bag needs, if they can be produced in time.
These relatively small purchase contracts could be worth pursuing. Whoever wins these skirmishes for government buys could eventually score big with other governments, domestic and foreign, and with corporations.