The U.S. Army is finishing a program to test the viability of smartphones in combat this weekend, after a rigorous six week course in the desert. The program, which began on June 6, took place at the White Sands and Fort Bliss training areas in New Mexico and Texas and tested over 300 iOS, Android, and Windows devices.
The program has proven successful enough that soldiers may start shipping out with smartphones as soon as this year. However, it has not been without its problems.
The Army group had initial troubles while testing the iPhone
in deserts of the training areas, due to a problem that many iPhone fans and critics are familiar with. "AT&T didn't provide service there," said Michael McCarthy, an Army director for the program.
The iPhone was not alone, though; McCarthy said that another popular Android
device manufactured by Samsung also had problems due to network connection errors and bugs in the operating system. Sprint Nextel later exchanged the phones for a different Samsung model.
Despite those wrinkles, McCarthy says that the soldiers have quickly taken to using the devices around the training grounds. "When they have a problem or need to submit a report, they default to the texting," said McCarthy. "These young soldiers grew up with this technology. They're very familiar with it. They're very comfortable with it."
The devices have also proven resilient: they've weathered sandstorms and rugged conditions, despite the fact that many phones were bare and others protected by little more than $10 rubber cases, according to McCarthy. (One, sadly, was run over by a truck and did not survive, he said.)
"iPhone and Android have been very well received," said Ed Mazzanti, the Army director that shepherded the program. Mazzanti expects that the Army will pick two devices for its needs.
By choosing two devices already on the market, Mazzanti believes that they can minimize software and hardware development costs and risks from cyber-attacks while still offering variety.
"It's a computer; it's a display unit; it's a video-out unit," said Mazzanti. "Since it is a computer-based utility in a 7-ounce package, we just started realizing there was a vast amount of potential."
Unfortunately, it seems that Microsoft has lost out on this one; perhaps the soldiers did not find the Windows Phone 7 interface to their liking. Regardless, expect to be reading more about specially Army-tailored Android and iOS devices in the future.