US Military's Latest Field Recruit: The iPod

Dennis Faas's picture

U.S. soldiers are being issued iPod touches; however, it's not a morale-boosting exercise or a way to combat boredom, but a low-cost way to give them access to important portable tools.

In the past, the Army gave soldiers dedicated electronic devices for key tasks such as on-the-spot translation. However, officials found this proved expensive, particularly when they had to issue different devices for different tasks. This approach also meant the military bore the costs of researching and developing the hardware and didn't get as many economies of scale as with consumer devices. (Source:

Soldiers Find Device Intuitive

Using the iPod Touch, and in some cases the iPhone, brings several advantages. It's considerably cheaper than most alternative technologies, since it's only a couple of hundred dollars. Many, if not most, soldiers have already used one in civilian life and thus need less training in its basic operation. And the intuitive design means most functions can be performed with a single thumb, making it less distracting and cumbersome in the field.

According to Newsweek, the military is funding the development of iPod applications specifically designed for the military. There's already an app which calculates ballistics trajectories and distance. Apps in the works include a remote control for a bomb disposal unit and a database of local information accessed by photographing a local street sign. (Source:

Standard Features Also Useful

The devices' standard features have their uses, too. For example, soldiers can use the iPhone to record video messages from local tribal leaders to show to potentially hostile groups they encounter.

The obvious question is security. Newsweek reports an Army official saying the devices have yet to be successfully hacked, but it's not clear if the military has added extra security to the iPods it issues to soldiers. If that isn't the case, it seems risky to rely on a technology which, despite Apple's best efforts, is widely explored and dissected by enthusiasts.

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