Military likely to shun iPhone

Open architecture of something akin to the Android OS is more appealing

As the military continues its search for the best battlefield smart phone, it’s looking more unlikely that the iPhone will be a contender. The biggest hurdle: Apple’s proprietary technology and the massive price tag attached to implementing it across the Defense Department.

Comparatively, a mobile device driven by an open operating system – one that is malleable to DOD needs, perhaps the Android – could be a better fit for rapid design and deployment, according to DOD Buzz.

The Army, in particular, has been leading the charge for smart phones on the front line; besides fostering better connections up and down the chain of command, the presence of a smart phone effectively puts extra sensors on a solider. More sensors means more data, and in this case, more effective data-sharing. The ability to record audio, take pictures and video or exploit any number of custom applications would make for a critical asset in the combat theater.

It’s something military leaders are taking seriously. One example: the Army Apps challenge drew 141 teams that created 53 application proposals last month. Of those app proposals, 17 were for Android, 16 for iPhone, 10 for ASP.NET, seven for the LAMP open software stack, two for the BlackBerry and one for the Army Knowledge Online portal.

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“Soldiers and Army civilians are creating new mobile and web applications of value for their peers—tools that enhance warfighting effectiveness and business productivity today,” said Lt. Gen. Jeff Sorenson, Army chief information officer/G-6, in an earlier interview.

Testing is already under way, including within the Army’s Brigade Combat Team Modernization program, on both iPhones and Androids. But already there’s a hefty speed bump: According to DOD Buzz, a Boeing official pegged the cost of a single, proprietary iPhone app at $200. It’s a steep cost for any program, but military smart phones don’t even have a dedicated budget yet.

To Sorenson, attaining the necessary situational awareness is more important than any cost. Getting the right devices and apps into the theater “might in many cases save soldier’s lives, which is priceless,” he said in March.


About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

Reader Comments

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 R.D. NJ

The iPhone app development software is free from the Apple developers site. All you need to download the software is an active iTunes account. To develop and app for the iPhone there is therefore no software cost only labor. So what is this $200 cost per all based on? From a security standpoint, Apple uses its own products to conduct business and Apple security is water tight, no corporate leaks, so what does that tell you? As far as closed proprietary software, its not that closed but its carefully screened to prevent software being developed that could cause crashes or security issues. So that could be a good thing. The other is if the iPhone is running on a BSD Unix variant of its PC OS than the core OS is open source with a proprietary GUI on top, so not sure if that is a valid argument against it either. I have been using an iPod Touch first generation now since is came out and its OS is rock solid, never lost any data since I activated it, even with two firmware updates, its not lost one calendar entry or contact! I now trust it as much as business cards in a wallet.

Thu, Jun 17, 2010

Actually, the iPhone 4 and it's iOS 4 specifically provide for wireless delivery of applications, digital certs and configuration information to iPhones without involvement of iTunes or Apple's review. With respect to ruggedness, I have seen holders/covers for iPhones (there are probably some for other devices) that withstand the kind of impacts the ToughBook is designed to tolerate and in come cases are also waterproof.

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 Bill centeral texas

vincent I thint the cost is per phone because Apple will have to supply it, and not the developmental cost. Unless the DoD develops their own portable x-G network using a jam proof secure protocol, it is a giant waist of time and money. Current cel phone technology is totally hacked and super easy to take off the air "court room jammers" are only about $600 right now.

Wed, Jun 16, 2010

I seriously doubt the security CZARs will allow anything other than simple controlled apps for the soldiers OR - they will disable a phone usefulness and just use the thing as a tagging device for the commands.

Wed, Jun 16, 2010 Diane M

I was wondering what was behind the $200 cost. With the possibility of having internal application developers and the power of the government to negotiate I am trying to understand the need to disqualify the Iphone based on cost. But whether its the Iphone or Android or any other smart phone, the military really should consisder 4G capabilities to support mobile communications going forward.

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