The announcement, though expected, is less a win for Apple than a defeat for BlackBerry (BBRY). Almost 80 percent of the U.S. military’s 600,000 mobile devices are BlackBerry smartphones or tablets. That’s not actually so many: BlackBerry sold 28.1 million devices last year.
Sure, a few hundred thousand here, a few hundred thousand there, and eventually you’re talking real money. But the bigger damage to BlackBerry may be to its reputation for a unique level of network security. Historically, it has wooed corporate and government buyers and slowed defections with the promise of the most hack-proof network on the market. That fight has already been largely lost at the corporate level; when the the Department of Defense is cool with the competition, it’s hard for an IT guy to argue. Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics (005930:KS) devices running Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system got the green light from the Defense Department early this month.
Specifically, the Apple approval lets government workers access military networks via iOS 6, though Apple has been making inroads at the Pentagon for a while. Some defense agencies already use Apple devices—about 41,000 devices in all—but to date, they’ve been required to crunch data through a third-party to comply with federal safety requirements. About a year ago, the Air Force awarded a $9.4 million contract to buy as many as 18,000 iPads, one of the military’s largest tablet purchases to date. Air Force pilots used the devices to replace bags full of manuals and navigation charts.