While it's unlikely that future wars will be won or lost by iPhone applications, it's entirely possible that iPhones deployed in the battlefield could soon be saving lives.
That's because application developers such as Intelligent Software Solutions (ISS) and Harris Corp. are working to create military applications that soldiers can use to gather intelligence and map out dangerous areas in hostile territory. John DeLay, the director of strategy and architecture for Harris' small and medium business division, says that the addition of improved video capabilities on smartphones has made the iPhone and comparable devices legitimate surveillance tools that can capture high-quality images on the battlefield.
"As these hand-held devices have become more capable as collectors for video, they have become more attractive and useful in Department of Defense applications," he says. "We have a number of applications we're developing in the DoD space that would run on either Android, iOS or the BlackBerry platform."
One such application is a military variation of Harris' Newsfish, which bills itself as a tool for "citizen journalists" who want to create videos and upload them onto blogs and news sites. DeLay says the military version of the app would allow soldiers to act as reporters and record videos with their smartphones that can be securely uploaded onto the military's enterprise architecture.
"The enterprise architecture has been designed to deal with all types of motion imagery, whether it comes from iPhones, Android devices, or Predator drones of Global Hawks," he says.
Another application Harris is developing is designed more for the iPad and other tablets that will let users remotely control fixed cameras and capture/edit footage in real time. DeLay says that the iPad is a good form factor for this particular app because it is more durable than a smartphone and because its larger screen will allow for "Madden-style telestration" where users can draw pictures or make notes on live video feeds, similar to how football commentators draw on television screens during games.
The military application being designed by Intelligent Software Solutions, meanwhile, doesn't rely on video-shooting capabilities and instead is more of a mapping application that military personnel can use to report, collect and analyze data while in the theater of war. So for instance, soldiers using the application and GPS technology could mark down certain dangerous hot spots that have seen frequent insurgent attacks or are frequently targeted with improvised explosive devices. This data is then uploaded into a central database where it can be used to analyze where military personnel can roam freely and where they should proceed with extreme caution.
Rob Rogers, vice president of national systems at ISS, emphasizes that most military smartphone applications are still quite a ways from being deployed in the battlefield. Currently, he says that the military is mostly experimenting with the possibility of utilizing smartphones in theater and that most of the smartphones brought into battle are personal devices owned by soldiers.
"There are a lot of personally owned cellphones that people take with them, but it's just now starting to proliferate on an official level," he says. "The concept of a cellphone application is kind of new and there's always a lag in between when the public and the military starts to adopt some things."
And then, of course, there are issues with connectivity and security, especially since places such as rural Afghanistan aren't exactly brimming with 3G networks or network operations centers. DeLay notes that before any smartphones or tablets are deployed in theater they must be outfitted with proper encryption tools and the ability to hook onto whatever ad hoc wireless networks the military sets up.
"This is the reason we have a lot of work going on to have a Type 1 encrypted iPad that will open up the ability to transmit data securely," he says. "So then in theater you'll be deploying secure 3G infrastructure, and you would then utilize the secure network to forward data to operation centers."