Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad could become another office-and-field staple in the U.S. military. To help lighten the load for its pilots, the Air Mobility Command of the U.S. Air Force is preparing to issue a request for proposals to purchase as many as 18,000 iPads or other “brand name or equal devices.”
The tablets would replace the 40-pound bags of manuals and navigation charts flight crews carry in the field. The Air Force, apparently, is tired of being late to the tablet party. Captain Kathleen Ferrero, a spokeswoman for the command, pointed out to Bloomberg that tablets already are being used by the U.S. airline industry.
Air Mobility Command has its work cut out for it on its tablet-shopping mission. Since the iPad debuted, in April 2010, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI), Samsung (PINK:SSNLF), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), and other computer and smartphone makers have rolled out tablets. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) also is planning to deliver its own branded tablet later this year.
If AMC is primarily interested in using tablets to replace operating and service manuals, then Amazon’s Kindle e-reader or Barnes & Noble‘s (NYSE:BKS) Nook might be seen as viable, lower-cost options. But if AMC plans to use the device for a much wider range of applications, it may want a more powerful and versatile iPad or Android-based tablet that is capable of meeting its needs as they arise.
iPad’s place in tablet ubiquity
Apple may have an advantage there, just as it does with U.S. corporations, in part because the Cupertino, Calif.-based-company’s iPad forged the path to tablet versatility. Apple also designed the iPad to communicate seamlessly with other Apple devices, and the iPad’s security features are more widely welcomed by corporations. And with other federal agencies and military branches beginning to buy Apple’s iOS phones and tablets, system compatibility may become a bigger priority.
The iPad, however, hasn’t completely dominated the federal space. Other military branches have been buying phones and tablets running on Google’s open-source Android operating system, and some of those tablets will be in the hands of troops deploying to Afghanistan this summer.
Whether Apple wins the Air Force contract or not, though, the fact that the iPad has been considered for use by the service highlights the company’s influence and market saturation. Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, was once the lead supplier of mobile technology to businesses. But the company’s lack of innovation helped cut RIM’s share of the global smartphone market to 8.2% in 4Q 2011 from 14% a year earlier. Unfortunately for RIM and its shareholders, the bad news seems ongoing. Oilfield services giant Halliburton (NYSE:HAL) announced last week that it is ditching the BlackBerry for the iPhone.
RIM may still have some appeal with the federal government. Although its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet hasn’t done well in commercial markets, the company said it is the only tablet certified for use by U.S. government agencies.
All smartphone and table makers vying for government contracts are required to get the security of their operating systems certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Encryption on Apple’s iOS has not yet been certified, and isn’t expected until August at the earliest. RIM investors, however, shouldn’t bet that will tip the scales in RIM’s favor.