U.S. government agency drops BlackBerry in favor of iPhone

The $2.1 million contract to supply iPhone devices and services to more than 17,600 users was awarded because RIM could not meet the mobile needs of the agency

More than 17,600 users in U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) are being moved from their BlackBerry devices to Apple's iPhone, after the agency found that technology from Research in Motion cannot meet its mobile technology needs, according to contract documents.

The contract for iPhone smartphones and services, which was awarded on Sept. 28, was made public last week.

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Apple's strict control of the hardware platform and operating system, independent of the telecommunication service provider, provides ICE, the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, with the greatest degree of control and management to ensure reliable services to its mission users, according to the document for justification of the award.

RIM's BlackBerry smartphones have been favored by law enforcement agencies around the world because of the high-level of security they provided, which makes the ICE decision significant.

ICE relied on RIM's technology for more than eight years as the standard for handheld devices that provide telephone, email, messaging, calendaring, and to a limited extent mobile applications. The standardization has allowed ICE to efficiently maintain operational capabilities, train users, and manage security, according to the document.

RIM ranked far lower than Android and Apple devices on commercial viability. RIM and Nokia's Symbian helped to define the smartphone market, but both companies failed to innovate, and consumers have rejected them, according to the document. The net effect is that both firms have been relegated to laggards in the consumer market which has made them too risky for adoption as a "go to" choice for enterprise use, it added.

Microsoft smartphones, including Windows Phone 7 models, were likewise identified as risky because of their limited use in the market. Operating systems such as Linux, Bada, Symbian, Palm, and Windows were eliminated from further evaluation, while RIM's platform was kept for further evaluation because of its status as a legacy product in ICE.

Government organizations globally have relied on the security of BlackBerry technology for over a decade, and it is trusted by some of the most security conscious global organizations and over 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies, RIM said today. "We have 1 million government customers in North America alone who depend on BlackBerry, and more than 400,000 government customers worldwide upgraded their devices in the past year," it added. "We are committed to the mobility needs of government agencies around the world." Google could not be immediately reached for comment.

Devices running the Android operating system were also considered. Although Apple and RIM were said to have direct control over the devices that implement their operating systems and have measures to detect and disable attempts to modify the operating system, Google by contrast provides the operating system as open source across various manufacturers and implementations that can modify elements of the operating system to accommodate new features. "What is a strength for Google is a risk for ICE," according to the document.

Apple and RIM both received full scores on operating system modification detection, while Android scored one on a scale of zero to five. Android also rated lower on product uniformity and predictability, an area in which Apple's iOS was on top.

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