That advantage may soon dissipate as Apple’s more broadly popular devices march toward Defense Department security certification, which may come as early as this month, military officials said.
Tablet computers are being tested across all military branches, according to interviews conducted by Bloomberg Government since May 17. The services pay $500 to $600 per tablet, less than half the cost of laptops that are “ruggedized,” or enhanced with a shell and toughened to withstand harsh environments. Tablets also may replace paper manuals, maps, biometric devices and some communications tools.
The U.S. Army is leaning toward the PlayBook because RIM “addressed security concerns from the get-go,” said Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Dosmann, who oversees mobile device pilot- testing for the Army’s cybersecurity division. Security remains an issue for Apple and may hold back wider use of iPads, he said.
Apple, Dell Inc. (DELL), RIM and other tablet makers are vying to tap the military market for computers, laptops and servers worth $2.9 billion in the government’s 2010 fiscal year. Of that amount, spending on enhanced laptops was $33 million. The department spent $37 million on tablets in the same fiscal year, according to Bloomberg data.
Tablets are a “disruptive technology” that can replace heavier and more expensive equipment, Dosmann said. “As an infantry soldier, the last thing I want is something more to carry.”
To secure the devices so they can only be accessed using the common access card carried by all military service members and Defense employees, the services must install additional software or hardware, Gary Winkler, the Army’s former program executive officer for enterprise information systems, said in a June 20 telephone interview. Winkler oversaw about $4 billion, or 56 percent, of the Army’s information-technology budget.
“It’s very tough to drive the manufacturers to make the tablets and the devices with the embedded security that only the Defense Department needs or only parts of the federal government needs because the market just isn’t big enough,” said Winkler, who now heads Fairfax, Virginia-based Cyber Solutions and Services Inc., a government consulting and contracts support company.