Defense Department opens contracts for Apple, Google

At one time BlackBerry received all of the Pentagon's mobile contracts, but times have changed.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

The U.S. Department of Defense announced today that it was further dropping its exclusive BlackBerry contract and opening all of its mobile communications networks to Apple, Google, and other device makers.

"The Department of Defense is taking a leadership role in leveraging mobile device technology by ensuring its workforce is empowered with mobile devices," Defense Department Chief Information Officer Teri Takai said in a statement today. "As today's DoD personnel increasingly rely on mobile technology as a key capability enabler for joint force combat operations, the application of mobile technology into global operations, integration of secure and non-secure communications, and development of portable, cloud-enabled capability will dramatically increase the number of people able to collaborate and share information rapidly."

Basically it all boils down to the department deciding to let its employees choose what devices they want to use rather than simply continuing to re-up on BlackBerry devices.

"This is not simply about embracing the newest technology," Takai said, "it is about keeping the department's workforce relevant in an era when information accessibility and cybersecurity play a critical role in mission success."

Of the more than 600,000 mobile devices used by the department, 470,000 are currently BlackBerry, 41,000 are Apple products, and 8,700 are running on Google Android. The department has said that eventually it wants to handle as many as 8 million devices. Any company that can meet its strict classified security guidelines can try to get a piece of the department's profitable government contract.

BlackBerry has had a tough go over the past year. The Pentagon announced in October that it was planning to open up its exclusive BlackBerry contract to other device makers. That same month, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced it was dropping all of its BlackBerry devices and replacing them with Apple's iPhone.

In the past, BlackBerry has enjoyed many exclusive contracts with different U.S. government agencies. Various iterations of BlackBerry devices have provided the high-level security requirements needed by the government. However, at this point, it looks like tight security just isn't enough. Fast browsers, app capabilities, and bigger touch screens also come in handy to government personnel.

Even though the government is opening up the bidding to Apple, Google, and other companies, it's still possible that BlackBerry will continue to be awarded the Defense Department contract. The Pentagon said that it plans to have the majority of contracts in place by next year.