WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Wednesday said it would continue to support "large numbers" of BlackBerry phones made by Research in Motion Ltd even as it moves forward with plans that would allow the U.S. military to begin using Apple Inc's iPhone and other devices.
The U.S. Defense Department last week invited companies to submit bids for software that can monitor, manage and enforce security requirements for devices made by Apple and Google Inc, with an eye to awarding a contract in April.
The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) quietly posted its request for proposals on a federal website on October 22, the same day that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency said it would end its contract with RIM in favor of Apple's iPhone.
Losing some of its Pentagon business to other providers could deal another blow to RIM, which once commanded the lead in the smartphone market but has rapidly lost ground to Apple and Samsung's line of products as customers abandon its aging BlackBerry devices.
For many years, the Pentagon relied solely on BlackBerry phones because RIM met its tough security requirements, but other companies have been improving security on their devices, and a growing number of military commanders are clamoring for rival devices with bigger touch screens and faster browsers.
A Pentagon spokesman said the U.S. military was working toward allowing vendors to supply other smartphones, while maintaining strict security requirements.
He said the department aimed to use commercial mobile technologies as it stepped up the use of "new and innovative applications" to support the military's evolving requirements.
But the Pentagon also stressed it was not moving away from its use of BlackBerry phones.
"DISA is managing an enterprise email capability that continues to support large numbers of RIM devices while moving forward with the department's planned mobile management capability that will support a variety of mobility devices," the spokesman said.
The DISA request for proposals said the software would manage at least 162,500 devices to start, but that number could grow to 262,500 by the end of the contract, which will have a one-year base and four six-month options.
Ultimately, the Pentagon wants the software to support a total of 8 million devices, according to the document.
RIM spokesman Paul Lucier said his company's BlackBerry Mobile Fusion product could also be used to manage Android and Apple devices, and RIM was "excited for the opportunity to include BlackBerry Mobile Fusion in the DOD's portfolio."
Lucier said the product could enable the Pentagon to "support a growing number of mobile devices across multiple platforms."
Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM is also planning to introduce new smartphones that will run on the BlackBerry 10 operating system, offering a faster and smoother user interface and a better platform for various smartphone applications.
(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)
Earlier on HuffPost:
Blackberry PlayBook Flops, Prices Slashed
The PlayBook tablet, which was the BlackBerry maker's answer to the iPad, went on sale in April 2011. Since then, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/03/blackberry-playbook-price-rim_n_1181167.html" target="_hplink">RIM has lost $485 million</a> on unsold units. At the beginning of January, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/03/blackberry-playbook-price-rim_n_1181167.html" target="_hplink">RIM slashed the price of all models</a> of its tablet to $299. The special pricing will last until February 4. PlayBooks, which come in 16, 32 and 64 gigabyte models, typically retail for $499, $599 and $699, respectively, <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-1001_3-57351162-92/blackberry-playbook-price-now-$299-for-all-models/" target="_hplink">according to CNET</a>. In November, RIM temporarily <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/blackberry-playbook-price-drop_n_1107941.html" target="_hplink">slashed the price</a> of the 16GB version of the tablet to $199 at certain retail locations.
In October, BlackBerry <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/13/blackberry-outage-2011-rim-says-services-returning_n_1008596.html" target="_hplink">suffered an outage that affected</a> many of its then 70-million worldwide users, leaving some of its customers in Asia, Europe, Latin American and Africa without service for as many as three days. Some users in the U.S. were affected, but not for as long a period.
Drunk Execs Disrupt International Flight
In December, two RIM executives were fired after a flight they were on was forced to be diverted because the pair's "drunken rowdiness," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/02/two-men-face-hefty-fine-a_0_n_1125214.html" target="_hplink">the AP reports</a>.
BlackBerry 10 Platform Delayed
Research in Motion announced in December 2011 that its highly anticipated BlackBerry 10 platform won't be available until the end of 2012. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/blackberry-10-phones-rim_n_1153314.html" target="_hplink">According to the AP</a>, the company claims the holdup is because the chipset needed for the phones running the platform won't be available until the middle of this year.
Stock Slides In 2011
In 2011, <a href="http://www.dailyfinance.com/quote/nasdaq/research-in-motion-limited-usa/rimm" target="_hplink">RIM's stock</a> dropped <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/rim-ceos-jim-balsillie-mike-lazaridis_n_1222605.html#s629929&title=Lessien" target="_hplink">a massive 75 percent</a>.
Falling U.S. Market Share
In less than a year, RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone market <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/rim-ceos-jim-balsillie-mike-lazaridis_n_1222605.html#s629929&title=Lessien" target="_hplink">dropped by almost 50 percent</a>, from <a href="http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2011/3/comScore_Reports_January_2011_U.S._Mobile_Subscriber_Market_Share" target="_hplink">30.4 percent</a> in January 2011 to <a href="http://www.comscore.com/Press_Events/Press_Releases/2011/12/comScore_Reports_November_2011_U.S._Mobile_Subscriber_Market_Share" target="_hplink">16.6 percent</a> in November 2011. In 2009, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/blackberry-10-phones-rim_n_1153314.html" target="_hplink">RIM controlled 44 percent</a> of the US smartphone market. (Pictured above is the HTC Desire HD Android, which runs on Google's much more popular Android platform.)
Investors Urge Company Sell Itself
A nearly 75 percent drop in stock price in 2011 did not please investors. At the end of 2011, Jaguar Financial Corp, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/03/balsillie-lazaridis-rim-research-in-motion-jaguar-financial_n_1180885.html" target="_hplink">one of the largest investors</a> in RIM, called "for substantial corporate governance change and for a sale of RIM, whether as a whole or as separate parts." Vic Alboini, the chief executive of Jaguar Financial, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16393180" target="_hplink">told the BBC earlier this month</a> that RIM has "lost it." "The party is over, we believe, in terms of trying to design that cool, tech savvy smartphone," he said. "Microsoft has over $50 billion in cash, RIM has $1.5 billion. There is no way they'll be able to compete."
The family of 11-year-old Kian McCreath of Coventry, U.K., gave RIM some of its worst publicity in 2012, telling the media the boy was burned and left with permanent scarring when his BlackBerry Curve 9320 exploded. Although cell phones that are left to charge too long are known to explode, for RIM the news represented a horrible publicity disaster that came just weeks ahead of the launch of its BlackBerry 10.