U.S. air force plans purchase of up to 18,000 iPads

Fri Feb 10, 2012 4:59pm EST

Feb 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force plans to buy up to 18,000 iPads or similar tablet devices to cut down on the amount of paper charts and manuals its pilots and flight crews carry.

The armed service named Apple's popular device by name in a notice on a government procurement website but said it would consider equivalent devices, which could include Research In Motion's PlayBook or Samsung's Galaxy Tab. It said it could also buy as few as 63 tablets.

If the military does choose the iPad and purchases the maximum number listed in the Federal Business Opportunities notice it would be a huge boost to Apple's attempts to infiltrate the government sector.

The Cupertino-based company's iPhone has lured some government clients away from RIM's BlackBerry, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

BlackBerrys are used by more than one million government employees in North America, but have been losing overall market share to Apple and devices using Google's Android software.

RIM had 8.2 percent of the global smartphone market in the fourth quarter, down from 14.3 percent a year earlier, according to research firm IDC. Apple's share rose to 23.5 percent from 15.9 percent in the same period.