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U.S. Military Unveils Smartphone Strategy

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MILITARY SMARTPHONE
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Friday released a new strategy aimed at tapping the full potential of smartphones and other mobile devices while maintaining adequate security and reliability.

Details must still be worked out, but the policy lays the groundwork for big battles between Research in Motion, which makes the Pentagon's most commonly used BlackBerry device, and competitors like Apple and Google.

The strategy aims to better coordinate an array of pilot programs and other initiatives already under way across the Department of Defense and the various military services.

Teri Takai, the Pentagon's chief information officer, said the Pentagon hoped to leverage the technology of smartphones and other mobile device technologies to improve information sharing, collaboration and efficiencies across the military services and other Pentagon agencies.

Dennis Moran, a retired Army general and vice president for communications equipment maker Harris Corp, welcomed the new strategy and said it would help clarify the U.S. military's approach to mobile devices.

"People have been calling for this for years," said Moran, who once ran the White House Communications Agency. "It's acknowledging that the world is moving toward mobility and the department's got to move in that same direction," he said.

The U.S. military already uses more than 250,000 BlackBerry devices built by Research In Motion, and has begun piloting the use of several thousand devices made by Apple or powered by Google's Android software.

Takai said the new strategy would take advantage of existing technology, the ability to use or build custom applications, and a workforce increasingly comfortable with using smart phones and other devices.

"This strategy is not simply about embracing the newest technology - it is about keeping the DoD workforce relevant in an era when information and cyberspace play a critical role in mission success," she said.

Most commercial devices do not have the level of security, access protocols and other security features required by the U.S. military.

RIM's BlackBerry has long been the default device where security is key, but its dominance has been eroded in recent years as popular consumer devices such as Apple's iPhone have their security credentials bolstered by third-party software. The Pentagon remains RIM's single biggest customer.

Fixmo Inc, one third party software provider, said the Pentagon had recently announced support for its first Android device - a Dell Streak running a hardened version of Android with Fixmo and Good Technology Inc providing security and ensuring compliance.

At the same time, RIM has moved to counter the threat to its market dominance, unveiling its Mobile Fusion product earlier this year that can manage rival devices as well as BlackBerry products. The Canadian company is planning to extend BlackBerry-like security to those devices later this year.

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa and Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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