(Updates with tablet market share in 10th paragraph and share prices in 11th paragraph.)
Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Air Force may buy as many as 18,000 iPad2s in what would be one of the military’s biggest orders of computer tablets, accelerating Apple Inc.’s inroads into the federal government.
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” to lighten the load of flight crews, according to a notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website.
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, said Captain Kathleen Ferrero, a spokeswoman for the command.
“The airline industry is way ahead of us on this,” she said in a telephone interview. “Most, if not all of the major airliners are already switching to tablets.”
Apple, based in Cupertino, California, has been eating away at Waterloo, Ontario-based Research In Motion Ltd.’s market share in the federal government market.
The Department of Veterans Affairs last year announced a plan to let its employees use iPhones and iPads to conduct official work on the agency’s network. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week said it would supply employees with iPhones, the latest government organization to drop RIM’s BlackBerry.
RIM Market Share
Other military branches have also begun buying phones and tablets running Apple’s iOS and Mountain View, California-based Google Inc.’s Android operating systems.
The Army has purchased about 1,300 various mobile devices as part of a pilot program called Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications, according to Mike McCarthy, who helps oversee the service’s program. About 50 Android-based tablets will accompany troops deploying to Afghanistan this summer, McCarthy said.
RIM’s share of the global smartphone market slid to 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter from 14 percent a year earlier, while Apple’s share rose to 24 percent from 16 percent in the same period, according to research firm IDC of Framingham, Massachusetts.
Apple led the global tablet market with a 58 percent share in the fourth quarter, down from 68 percent in the year-ago period, according to Strategy Analytics, a Boston-based, market- research firm.
Apple rose 25 cents to $493.42 in Nasdaq trading after reaching a record high of $497.62 earlier today. RIM fell 46 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $15.44 in Nasdaq trading.
RIM’s BlackBerry may be joined by other mobile devices with certification to access the Pentagon’s sensitive and classified networks.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is part of the Commerce Department and develops security standards for the U.S. government, is reviewing an application from Apple to validate encryption on the iPhone and iPad, according to Evelyn Brown, an agency spokeswoman.
Government mobile devices that hold, process or transmit encrypted information must employ hardware and software that meet federal standards, she said. When the agency may decide on Apple’s application is unknown, she said.
Ferrero, the Air Force command spokeswoman, said she expects the request to be released in the next week or two and that it is open to tablets other than Apple’s.
Among the other tablets on the market are the BlackBerry PlayBook made by RIM, Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc.’s Xoom, the Galaxy Tab made by Samsung Electronics Co. and Barnes & Noble Inc.’s Nook.
Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment on the government market.
RIM has more than 1 million government customers in North America who rely on the “unmatched” security of the BlackBerry platform, Marisa Conway, a company spokeswoman, said in an e- mail. “The BlackBerry PlayBook remains the only tablet certified for use by U.S. government agencies.”
Air Mobility Command, based at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, provides transport and refueling services to the U.S. military around the world using C-5, C-17 and C-130 cargo planes and KC-10 and KC-135 tankers.
--With assistance from Hugo Miller in Toronto. Editors: Stephanie Stoughton, Joe Winski
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