After years of being the go-to device for US government agencies, the BlackBerry has just lost a major federal customer. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced that it will be replacing some of its employees' BlackBerrys with iPhones and will get rid of its RIM secure email servers by June. More surprisingly, the move is actually an economic one: NOAA chief information officer Joe Klimavicz says that the decision is due to pressure to cut operating costs for the agency.
Apple's hardware isn't known for its low price point, but the associated RIM services push up the cost of using BlackBerrys. iOS was chosen because of its heavily curated firmware, while Google Apps for Government — which NOAA started using in December — will provide an alternative to RIM's mobile device management. Together, the two platforms will give NOAA most of the functionality RIM offers at a lower price, although Klimavicz declined to say how much the agency will save. It also probably doesn't have the kind of top secret data that some other groups need to protect. BlackBerry responded that it would continue to work with "more than one million government customers" in North America, compared to the 3,000 phones used by NOAA employees. But if one agency is leaving, it's hard to believe that others won't follow.