A: It would cost roughly six times as much and not work.
The census decided that one of these crazy new smartphone/PDAs that all the hepcats are using would help in their counting. But simply writing a new piece of software for an existing Blackberry or iPhone was way too elegant a solution. So the governent threw millions at a military contractor and produced 525,000 of what looks like the Trabant of smartphones. The bottom line:
In other words, the relatively lame device my friendly enumerator was carrying, which cost $600 million, doesn’t actually work well enough to use for its intended purpose, is still being used in the field, perhaps so that it can be readied for 2020? Anyone believe that we’ll be able to do better than a half-pound, paperback-book sized plastic brick within ten years?
I haven’t traced the story back thoroughly enough to understand why the US government didn’t use an off the shelf device. My guess is that the requirements (encrypted data streams between device and server, biometric security, a variety of paths towards data networks, mostly via cell networks) were tough for commercial handhelds to meet. But it seems like one pathway might have been to remove the most arduous of those requirements – the biometric sensor – and use a platform whose hardware had been extensively field-tested as a mobile phone, and simply debug a secure communications layer and a data collection application.
Then again, that’s probably why I don’t work on government IT projects anymore.