The U.S. Defense Department has broken its long tradition of allowing only BlackBerry smartphones on its network. It has approved Samsung's Android-based Galaxy S 4, when using the device's forthcoming Knox management suite -- a major feather in the cap of Samsung, which has been trying to make Android an acceptable device in corporate environments. Android has lagged in security support, though Google partially closed that gap last year in its Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" release.
The DoD also approved the use of the new BlackBerry 10 OS when used with the new BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 10 management suite, which allows use of the Z10 and forthcoming Q10 models. And a Pentagon spokesman told Reuters that approval of Apple's iOS 6 is expected early this month, which would allow use of iPhones and iPads. The fourth major mobile platform, Microsoft's Windows Phone, is not slated for approval, likely because it has the fewest security capabilities.
[ As BYOD becomes the norm, tricky new mobile management questions arrive on backup, remote wipe, and e-discovery. | See how iOS 6, Android 4, Samsung SAFE, BlackBerry 10, and Windows Phone 8 compare for key mobile security features. ]
The DoD has 600,000 mobile users, 470,000 of which use the now-discontinued BlackBerry 5, 6, and 7 lines of devices. About 41,000 users have iPhones and iPads, and about 10,000 have Android devices, mainly for pilot programs. The agency has said for several months that it plans on opening the door to manufacturers other than BlackBerry, and now it has. The decisions to allow Knox-managed Samsung devices and BlackBerry 10 smartphones, and the pending decision to allow iOS 6 devices, don't create any orders for those devices, but it sets the stage for a new mix of devices at the Pentagon. It also clears the way for these devices' use at other federal agencies, many of which use DoD certification as a purchase requirement.
There is some fine print that goes with the DoD's Android support: The requirement of Knox for Android devices limits purchases to Samsung's Galaxy S 4, the only Android device that Knox currently supports. As other devices support Knox, that Android portfolio could grow, especially if the DoD also certifies General Dynamics' virtualization-based security software, which will be available initially only for the old Galaxy S II and will run atop Knox. The Knox requirement also -- for now -- locks out other mobile management vendors for Android devices.
Likewise, BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 use will be allowed only if the new BES 10 is deployed; the older BES 5 does not support BlackBerry 10. It's unclear what management servers will be required to manage iOS devices; Apple provides the APIs for mobile management in iOS but leaves it to third parties to create the management tools, of which there are dozens today.
Whatever the eventual device mix at the Pentagon, its move to open up the mobile portfolio is the final proof that the world of mobile has changed dramatically since the advent of the iPhone in 2007. It's a new era, and even the most cautious part of the government has joined it.
This article, "Pentagon approves Samsung Knox, BlackBerry 10; iOS approval imminent," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.