BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet Finds a Fit With Law Enforcement

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2012-05-04

BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet Finds a Fit With Law Enforcement

The BlackBerry PlayBook has stumbled since its April 2011 debut, as it€”too aggressively for some tastes€”worked to address the security needs of its enterprise customers in a form factor as playful as the Apple iPad. Even with email onboard and a variety of updates, though, its success is coming gradually, far from the home run that Research in Motion€™s earlier executive lineup suggested was imminent, when they rolled out the tablet in more than 20,000 retail outlets.

But now, as RIM trims and tightens itself, working toward new CEO Thorsten Heins€™ mandate to stay €œlaser-focused€ on what€™s €œcore€ to the company, an opportunity has presented itself in a key RIM vertical: law enforcement. With government customers said to be slowly leaving RIM, and RIM€™s newest BlackBerry 10 handsets still months away€”giving consumers reason to stray to the iPhone€”public service could be a sweet spot, helping to grow RIM€™s customer base and sell tablets.

RIM got a lucky break in September 2011 when the last Ford Crown Victoria€”a popular police cruiser€”rolled off an assembly line. With this land yacht retired, police departments can now choose from a handful of American-made options (nevermind that that Ford assembly line was in RIM€™s home of Ontario), all of them far smaller than the Crown Vic, necessitating a rethink of all that when into the cars.

Police vehicles undergo a crash test at 70 mph, making all the airbags deploy. Any piece of equipment that has a part break off, potentially injuring an officer, doesn€™t make it into the vehicle, Ken Koke, a constable with Ontario€™s Chatham-Kent police department, explained during a May 1 session at RIM€™s BlackBerry World 2012 event.

Koke drives one of the five police cruisers in the world currently equipped with a BlackBerry PlayBook.

€œThere€™s only one wireless handheld that€™s approved for [secure government use] in Canada,€ said Koke. €œBlackBerry is the only solution that offers two-factor authentication out-of-the-box.€

Security, Cost, Convenience Make the PlayBook an Attractive Alternative

Security is a tremendous concern for police departments; the Internet and secure police databases can€™t be accessed on the same device. However, the introduction of BlackBerry Balance€”technology that creates a virtual wall between security-sensitive data and everything else on a device€”addressed this.

€œCops won€™t say work and play,€ Koke explained, suggesting the two sides of the wall, €œbut secure work and work.€

Given that the department was already pleased with its 2008 rollout of BlackBerry handsets, and the challenge of slimmer new cars, €œit wasn€™t a leap to say, €˜Let€™s put a tablet inside the car,€™€ said Koke, noting that these weren€™t the department€™s only motivations. Money was also a factor, as was convenience.

In a struggling global economy, police departments are being forced to operate on less but deliver the same results. In Canada, said Koke, department funding has been cut 20 percent, which generally comes out of salaries and vehicles.

Rugged laptops, easily accommodated by the Crown Vic, have become de rigueur in police vehicles, but with mounting and other installation necessities€”a good amount of connectivity equipment goes into the trunk€”deploying one can conservatively cost $10,000 per vehicle, said Koke. A tablet, by comparison, runs $500 to $600. That savings, multiplied by the number of cars in a fleet, is likely to pique a lot of interest.

Also, €œNo officer ever takes the laptop out of the car,€ said Koke.

The PlayBook, by contrast, is truly mobile. In an arrangement designed by a company called Mobile Innovations, it€™s housed in an Otterbox case, mounted on the dash and paired with a wireless keyboard and a small machine that grabs information off a driver license. The mount works on springs, though, and so it takes just a second to grab the PlayBook and go; it fits in the cargo pants pocket of an officer€™s uniform. Koke uses it to look up information, print tickets, submit daily reports on the state of the vehicle (a thing that€™s done at the start of each shift), to record witness statements and more.

The PlayBooks€™ potential is also raised by the comfort young officers have with the BlackBerry platform. New recruits are trained to use the devices, and a BlackBerry smartphone is now as much a part of an officer€™s uniform, said Koke, as his baton or handcuffs.

Wes Montee, a senior government market development manager for RIM, explained that a recent VDC study found 90 percent of government-issued devices to be BlackBerry phones.

With every new product, said Montee, RIM looks for opportunities to maximize sales. As for opportunity for the PlayBook in new police crusiers, €œIt€™s great to get in on the ground floor as things are moving forward,€ he said. €œThere€™s a tremendous amount of interest in this.€

Follow me on Twitter at @eWEEK_Michelle.

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