Sorry, BlackBerry, the White House is Flirting With Other Smartphones

Source: thinkstock

Source: thinkstock

The White House Communications Agency, the military unit in charge of the president’s communications, is reportedly looking for more out of its relationship with mobile technology than BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) can provide. A person familiar with the situation tells the Wall Street Journal that the White House is testing smartphones from Samsung and LG Electronics for internal use.

“We can confirm that the White House Communications Agency, consistent with the rest of the Department of Defense, is piloting and using a variety of mobile devices,” a Defense Department spokesman told the WSJ, although the publication’s source said that any implementation is still months away.

The possible loss of its contract with the White House would be a pretty serious blow to BlackBerry, which is facing tough competition for enterprise customers not just from Samsung and LG Electronics, but from Apple (NASAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). The news is just the latest in a series of reports describing the evaporation of BlackBerry’s footprint in government and business. According to market research firm International Data Corporation, BlackBerry’s market share among U.S. business customers has fallen from 70 percent in 2010 to about 5 percent in 2013 — globally, that share is down to 8 percent from 31 percent over the same period.

In February, the U.S. Air Force announced that it is replacing some 5,000 BlackBerry devices with iPhones, the latest move in the organization’s overall shift away from the BlackBerry platform.

“In order to keep costs down and save on network resources, BlackBerrys will be turned in and shut off once the user is transitioned to an iOS device,” said Brigadier General Kevin Wooton, communications director for Air Force Space Command, via a statement given to the AirForceTimes. Although the Air Force didn’t reveal if the Apple devices would be supported by the Defense Information Systems Agency’s mobile device management software, DISA typically manages devices for Department of Defense use.

Apple received DoD security approval for iOS6-powered devices in May 2013. The Pentagon supports over 600,000 commercial devices, including 470,000 BlackBerry devices, 41,000 iOS devices, and 8,700 devices that use the Android platform. Apple and Samsung have been investing heavily in order to win over government customers from BlackBerry, and the latest news suggests that the firms have been generally successful. BlackBerry, for its part, is adamant in its defense of one of its last strongholds in the smartphone market.

“For more than a decade, BlackBerry has been securing the U.S. government’s mobile communications and only BlackBerry is designed to meet the high-security needs of U.S. and allied government agencies,” a BlackBerry spokeswoman told the WSJ.

But BlackBerry was dealt a blow back in January when it came to light that DoD wouldn’t be purchasing any new BlackBerry devices as the result of a deal between the agency and the smartphone maker. Initially, a press release announcing the deal was misinterpreted to mean that the DoD would be making purchases.

“Absolutely no new orders have been placed for new BB devices. The DISA press release put out January 16 never alluded to any devices being purchased. The 80,000 BBs and 1,800 non-BB devices referenced in the release are legacy systems already in DoD inventories,” the Department of Defense said in a statement to The Verge.

Another possible contender in the government-issue technology game is an ultra-high tech smartphone made by Boeing (NYSE:BA) called the Boeing Black. The phone will be able to support all the major communications, storage, and wireless standards; and will self-destruct if tampered with. The device also uses dual SIM cards to switch between secure and public networks — but not too much more is known about device. The company has even gotten the specs for the device exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, so journalists aren’t allowed to know many details about the phone. Boeing says that the device’s specs are “trade secrets” vital to national security and so can’t be shared with the public.

“Boeing has developed its Black phone primarily by governmental agencies and their contractors to ensure that data and voice communications undertaken by their respective employees are transmitted and store in a highly secure manner,” Boeing said in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission. Anyone who buys a Boeing Black will have to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising not to reveal the phone’s secrets.

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