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U.S. Army, government adopting Android smartphones and tablets for field use

News by Dan Seifert on Friday February 03, 2012.

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The U.S. government has approved certain Android devices for use by federal employees and officers in the military this year. This is the first time that smartphones have been approved to handle classified documents in the field.

The utility of a smartphone or other mobile device for soldiers and federal officials are great, and the use of these devices could greatly enhance and speed up communications in the field. Opponents to the plan have voiced concerns that smartphones are not secure enough for government work, and that hackers could gain access to confidential data that is stored or transmitted by them. At this point, CNN reports that the government has certified a version of Android that is secure enough to store classified information, but not transmit it over cellular networks. The special build of Android will be installed on regular, commercially available devices, saving the government the time and money it would have to spend designing and building its own devices.

The government chose Android over Apple's iOS platform because Apple was unwilling to provide the government with access to the platform's source code, something that is readily available for Android. There is hope that the program could be extended to cover Apple's devices in the future, though, as there is high demand for them among many government officials. "Android was more cooperative in supporting some of the capabilities that we wanted to support in the operating system, whereas Apple was more averse," said government contractor Angelos Stavrou who is working on the project. "They're shifting the strategy now."

On the topic of updates to Android, something that has been a sore spot for many consumers, Stavrou said that it would take the government a mere two weeks to adapt a new version of Android to suit its needs. This is in stark contrast to the makers of consumer devices and the carriers that support them, which can take many months, or even a year, to release an updated version of Android to users.

As expected, the government-issued devices will be locked down as to which apps they can download and use. Soldiers won't be able to play a game of Angry Birds between skirmishes, and apps that transmit data over the cellular network will likely be banned. The researchers in the program have tested over 200,000 apps for security clearance already.

The first wave of these new government-issued smartphones and tablets are expected to be deployed to soldiers next month, with more going out to other government employees later on.

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Dan Seifert
Dan is MobileBurn.com's Editor-in-Chief. Based in Poughkeepsie in New York, Dan can be found on Twitter as @DCSeifert.

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