Last week, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced that its 17,600 employees would be getting new iPhones instead of the traditional BlackBerrys. The agency’s announcement is yet another significant blow to the struggling Research in Motion Ltd as it tries to survive the onslaught of Apple Inc’s dominance in the mobile market.
In a solicitation document, the U.S. Immigration and Customs said that it is planning to spend around $2.1 million for the new phones.
The agency has relied on RIM’s services for the past eight years but the switch to Apple is needed as the company “can no longer meet the mobile technology needs of the agency.”
The Android platform was also considered as one of the choices by the agency but it decided to opt for Apple’s device for the near term as the Cupertino-based company offers the more secure alternative. The conclusion is based on the assumption that Apple has tight control over its hardware platform and operating system.
The agency said that Apple’s iPhone will be issued to government personnel including, but not limited to, Enforcement and Removal Operations, Homeland Security Investigations, and Office of the Principal Legal Advisor.
“The iPhone services will allow these individuals to leverage reliable, mobile technology on a secure and manageable platform in furtherance of the agency’s mission,” the agency report said.
Consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton also announced last week that it was severing its ties with Research In Motion by switching to Android and iOS smartphones for its 25,000 strong staff.
Observers said that other companies and agencies are more likely to follow suit as demand for other smartphones other than BlackBerry keeps on rising.
Charter Equity analysts Ed Snyder said: “You’re going to see this happen more and more. They still have excellent security … but if your handsets are a brick that no one wants to use it’s going to drag down your business.”
RIM is expecting to release its new BlackBerry 10 smartphone early next year. The new phone is expected to compete with Android phones and Apple’s iPhones.
RIM vice president of government solutions Paul Lucier said: “Of course, we are disappointed by this decision. We are working hard to make our new mobile computing platform, BlackBerry 10, meets the future needs of government customers.”
At this time, RIM still maintains a solid customer base of one million BlackBerry users in North America alone.
BlackBerrys had previously been the favorite choice for industry use because of its past superior security and device management features. BlackBerry phones had been the top option for many corporate IT managers and were crucial tools for military and police use.
The greatly improved smartphones today however, had greatly diminished the edge RIM had been enjoying for years, as Android and iPHones are offering more or less the same level security, if not better, to their customers.
“Apple is really addressing security,” said Shaw Wu, a Sterne Agee analyst. He added that the company greatly improved its security requirements by acquiring AuthenTec as well as tapping Cisco’s VPN support.
Wu also said that RIM’s app ecosystem is significantly weak amidst the growing thirst of users to go beyond data and voice.