updated 06:29 pm EDT, Mon October 22, 2012
Agency will shift $2.1 million in annual purchasing to Apple
In yet another blow to beleaguered Canadian tech giant Research In Motion, the US government's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has filed to stop using BlackBerrys for its agency smartphones, and will instead switch to Apple's iPhones. The deal, worth $2.1 million annually, will provide iPhones for most of the agency's more than 17,600 employees, according to a solicitation document obtained by Reuters. ICE studied both Android and iOS as options before deciding that iPhones best met its needs.
Especially cutting to the struggling BlackBerry maker was a line from the memo that said that the platform "could no longer meet the mobile technology needs of the agency," where RIM has specifically positioned the BlackBerry line for corporate, enterprise and government use. The company expects to bring out a revamped platform (BB10) and new phones to take advantage of it early next year, but for many the move -- even if the platform should prove a legitimate rival -- is seen as too little too late.
Reuters quoted analysts as saying that while the BlackBerry still had excellent security and strong email features, a variety of workplace shifts -- including iMessage and other forms of instant messaging, the rise of enterprise features in iOS and the wider flexibility of Apple's and Google's smartphone platforms -- had allowed Apple in particular to leverage the popularity of its mobile products to offer them as being good for business and government use as well. RIM estimates that (even after the ICE move) it still has around a million US government users on its platform, though a number of agencies have already announced that they are moving or have moved to iPhones already.
The news comes just after an announcement that major government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton has likewise opted to move away from BlackBerry in favor of iPhones or Android phones for its own 25,000 employees. The Government Business Council has said that federal use of BlackBerrys by managers has dropped to nearly half of it's 2011 levels, when it was still the dominant platform with more than 75 share.
Analysts believe the trend will continue, given that Microsoft is now actively producing its own tablets again -- and may choose to create its own smartphones if the platform can get a foothold. RIM's BB10, no matter how good it is, will be facing rivals that are much more ready for the needs of enterprise when the new platform arrives around March of next year.