Saturday, March 3, 2012

Apple's Enterprise Push Gets Government Momentum

Despite reports that the Air Force had backed off an iPad deal, that branch of U.S. military awarded a $9.36 million contract to Executive Technology Inc. to supply up to WiFi-equipped 18,000 iPad 2 devices. The Air Force will use iPads to replace paper flight manuals, checklists, and log books in the manner approved last year by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial airlines. The Air Force move places it in the footsteps of existing adopters of iPads for this purpose at the commercial airlines Alaska, American and United. The article on Alaska Air's deployment suggested that some customers would use the iPad to replace as much as seventy (70) pounds of paper manuals and charts, presumably a source of fuel savings on flights that would charge customers a small fortune to add a 70-pound bag to every leg of every flight. Other commercial aircraft have tested the iPad, and the ultimate extent of eventual deployment remains unknown.

Thousands of pages of paper will be replaced with a searchable, more easily-carried, easily-updated, and much more lightweight tablet. If this proves a positive value proposition at commercial airlines and in the military, Apple's push to become the backbone of next-generation textbooks may have real potential even without dramatically revamping the content of the books to include multimedia experiences and user feedback.

The Air Force deployment follows U.S. government deployments of iOS by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (both to adopt iPhones to replace previously-standard Blackberry devices). The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are known to be evaluating iPads as replacements for notebook computers. Foreign government iPad adoption has been noted. Commercial deployments have moved beyond evaluation and testing: in an unusually pro-Apple move, MS-Windows shop Halliburton is dumping Blackberry for iOS. Halliburton historically had 4,500 Blackberry-wielding employees. Over the next few years, all these Blackberry devices and their server infrastructure will be replaced with Apple products.

This large-scale move to iOS in government and enterprise has created an environment in which users will experience that they can share documents and conduct business without needing Microsoft Office, which is not available for iOS devices. With this knowledge, will Office's lock-in endure as well as if it did while users everywhere could buy MS-Office and thus never learn they could work without it? The trend also raises questions about the relative competitiveness of various hardware makers in selling hardware into enterprise.

A Jaded Consumer article submitted to Seeking Alpha explores pro-Apple trends in government and enterprise as the basis for a long/short trade to bet on what appears to be a tectonic shift underway in enterprise mobile technology. (The article Apple: The Long and the Short of It went live Monday 3/5.)

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