US Army runs trial for smartphones, tablets

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The US Army is wrapping up a six-week program in which it has tested over 300 different Android, iPhone, and Windows phones in addition to tablets from Apple, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard. The pilot program began on June 6, 2011 within the White Sands and Fort Bliss training areas in New Mexico and Texas.

"When they have a problem or need to submit a report, they default to the texting," Michael McCarthy, an Army director for the program, told CNN. "These young soldiers grew up with this technology. They're very familiar with it. They're very comfortable with it. It's a lot cheaper for the Army to buy stuff that's already been developed than to develop it on our own."

Generally speaking, the devices are popular with soldiers who've used smartphones and tablets outside of the battlefield. As can be expected though, the gadgets still have many issues that frustrate typical consumers. Many fail to connect to cellular networks in multiple areas that the US army would need them, or even worse, the devices freeze up when they're most needed.

Soldiers could get the devices in "limited deployment" later this year. Based on the testing, the US Army says they'll be use two different operating systems, but it didn't reveal which ones. It's most likely that they will be customized versions of Android and iOS, but details are unknown. Army software engineers have developed a way for applications to be ported between the two platforms with minimal effort, while other apps are being coded as mobile-optimized Web pages.

Officials said the devices would ideally operate in conjunction with older equipment, such as tactical radios. The infantry is already using smartphones to text updates about their surroundings, send pictures with an attached GPS location, pull up maps, and quickly fill out regular reports. Soldiers operate the devices' touchscreens using special off-the-shelf gloves.

Three months ago, we learned that the US Army was developing an Android-based smartphone framework. Called the Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P Handheld), it is the army's first effort to create a smartphone framework and suite of apps for tactical operations. It ensures that regardless of who develops them, apps will be secure and interoperable with existing mission command systems.

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