Will the Apple iPad Fly With the Air Force?

On Friday, shares of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) reached another new all-time high, just below $500.  Due to impressive earnings and future growth prospects, shares have gained more than 20 percent year-to-date.  Despite selling 15.4 million iPads in the fourth quarter, the tech giant may have found another strong buyer for its highly popular tablet device.

In order to lighten the load of flight crews, the U.S. Air Force may purchase as many as 18,000 iPads, representing one of the biggest orders of computer tablets by the military.  Bloomberg reports, “The service’s Air Mobility Command plans to issue a request for proposals to buy between 63 and 18,000 iPad 2, Brand Name or Equal devices.  The goal is to replace the bag of manuals and navigation charts weighing as much as 40 pounds that are carried by pilots and navigators.”

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The switch to lighter technology is long overdue, according to Captain Kathleen Ferrero, a spokeswoman for the command.  She said, “The airline industry is way ahead of us on this.  Most, if not all of the major airliners are already switching to tablets.”

Other military and government branches are already exploring new technology.  The Army has already purchased about 1,300 various mobile devices as part of a pilot program called Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications, according to Bloomberg.  Last year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it was exploring security systems that would allow employees to use mobile devices such as Apple’s iPad and Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android phones.  Earlier this month, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it would switch employee phones to the iPhone, instead of RIM’s (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry.  In a San Francisco special event, Apple is expected to launch its next iPad model in early March.

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Although it is too early to tell if the Air Force will adopt Apple tablets, it serves as a reminder that Apple continues to expand its presence beyond the traditional consumer.  Apple is also placing pressure on Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) in the corporate environment.  Under a year-old pilot project, General Electric (NYSE:GE) employees can choose Apple’s Mac notebooks or Mac desktops instead of a Windows PC.