When you hear the words Government Issue, the thought of a brand new, shiny smartphone would probably be the last thing to enter your mind. According to a recent report from the Army Times, that could change in the near future. The initiative is named Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications, or CSDA, and with this, the US Army is looking into issuing every soldier a modern, very capable smartphone.
The idea is to use current technology on the battlefield and base rather than building new systems from the ground up. The good thing is, they appear to be unbiased as to what operating system and manufacturer they plan to use. General Michael Vane, both an iPhone and Android user, was quoted on the issue by the Army Times stating that they are “not wedded to a specific piece of hardware. We are open to using Palm Trios, the Android, iPhone or whatever else is out there.”
According to AT, it could potentially be a soldier's choice when the time comes. However, I see that potentially being a problem down the road. Rather than focusing on one platform over another, they will run into a sort of fragmentation of their own. If one operating system's update surpasses another and that platform has extended capabilities, not everyone will be on the same page. Either way, I'm sure the Army will put great thought into all possible solutions before taking that leap.
In coordination with the advanced technology that the Armed Forces already sport, smartphones would give soldiers instant access to shared calendars, secured military email with Common Access Card (CAC) readers, and even a solution for collecting biometric information from enemies. Not only would smartphones in the field provide extended capabilities to soldiers, but as stated by AT, they would also have access to real-time augmented reality information which expands their knowledge of the surrounding territory. Staff Sgt. Isaiah Marquez, a soldier who tested the specific application, explained the use of augmented reality:
“If another unit knows of IEDs, that info can be downloaded directly onto the cell phone. Then the other unit can tell exactly where the IED is supposed to be by looking through the camera on the phone. As you pan around, it will show you where they are.”
There are obviously many ways that the use of a phone can aid soldiers in combat and even while working on base. It's great to see the Army realizing how useful the technology can actually be, but I'm interested to see if they will adopt the increasingly popular NFC technology.
One thing that will inevitably need to be improved though, is the build quality of current handsets. We're all aware of how easily Apple's iPhone glass screens get busted up, even while in the protection of a case. Android phones, Windows Phone 7 devices (which the Army didn't seem fond of), and basically any other phone out there is at risk of being completely demolished. There are some phones that have been built for ruggedness, but the majority of smartphones wouldn't last a week through a field soldier's pocket. I'm almost certain the Army will have to issue an OtterBox, or something like it, to soldiers, too. That is, if they don't want to replace phones on a weekly basis.
This is a huge opportunity for Apple, Google, and any other smartphone manufacturer or mobile platform that can prove its worth and present it's open ability to adapt their product to the extreme needs of the US Army. Who wouldn't love to throw around the tag “Official phone of the US Army” in their TV and online ads? Maybe this is a chance for RIM to step forward with their exceptional security and extremely durable hardware and stake their claim.
Image via Dvice