Review: Smart card readers for the iPhone and iPad
Flexible PKard Reader and elegant Tactivo bring smart card authentication to your favorite mobile device
It can be difficult to use Webmail on the iPhone (less so on the iPad) due to the limited screen real estate. It would be preferable to use the regular email app, but this is not an option provided by the DOD today, as it would require the DOD to provide a VPN mail service server. While the PKard Reader and Tactivo devices are capable of supporting direct access to mail servers, I was only able to test access to Webmail in my environment. Potential buyers in the military and government should be aware they'll be restricted to using iOS-compatible Webmail and Web apps only.
All potential buyers should note that the PKard Reader app does not overcome other limitations of Apple's Safari browser. Smart card or CAC-secured websites that employ technologies such as Flash or Java that work fine on a full PC will not work on an iPhone or iPad -- with or without the PKard Reader app. The Defense Travel System (DTS) is an example of this limitation. DTS simply will not work due to the fact that its designers did not plan for iOS compatibility. For users of DOD websites, it's Webmail only and no mobile travel planning for now.
This of course is not the fault of the PKard Reader or Tactivo, but a limitation of iOS and the result of unfortunate website design decisions. DOD sites were designed for the PC, and they may be clunky to use on an iPhone or iPad. As the DOD gets onboard with mobile users surfing its websites, we can only hope that the websites will become less reliant on Flash and Java and more in tune with HTML5 and smaller screen sizes.
Another problem with the DOD's CAC-authenticated websites is that error messages are poor or nonexistent. Logging in to a website will require either the email certificate or the identity certificate. If you enter the wrong one, you will get a nondescript error such as "This page cannot be displayed." Your browser's cache will be corrupted. Refreshing the website will not work. You will have to restart the application and retry the URL, selecting the other certificate to get it to work. The problem is that some DOD websites use the identity certificate and others use the email certificate. If you choose the wrong one, you have to kill the application and try again. Again, it's not the fault of the PKard Reader or Tactivo -- it's just bad DOD design.
Precise Biometrics' Tactivo (above) incorporates a smart card reader and a fingerprint scanner into a case for your iPad or iPhone. Thursby Software's PKard Reader (below) is an accessory that plugs into either an iPhone or an iPad.