US Army's first smartphone will be powered by Google Android, not Apple

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In what could be a major design win for Google, the U.S. Army is currently undergoing testing of a prototype Android-based smartphone platform for connected soldiers, according to a new report.

Wired reports that a wartime smartphone called the Joint Battle Command-Platform is currently being tested by the Army. The device, which was developed by nonprofit MITRE, runs Google's Android mobile operating system.

According to the Army, the platform's development kit, known as the Mobile/Handheld Computing Environment, will be released to developers in July. The Army is exploring a rank of tasks for the device, including mapping, a "Force Tracker" that keeps track of friendly units and "critical messaging" for exchanging medical requests and on the ground reporting.

As is to be expected, security remains one of the top issues that needs to be resolved. The difficulty of deploying the devices in low connectivity combat environments has also presented challenges for the project.

The Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, claims that the tested devices can handed the extra wear-and-tear from war zones, the report noted. The Joint Battle Command-Platform weighs roughly two pounds when connected to a radio and is significantly lighter than current solutions, such as the Nett Warrior.

While the current prototype is a long way from the final stages of the project, Android appears to be the early platform of choice, especially since the Mobile/Handheld Computing Environment is meant to run on "any manner of devices."

Last December, ArmyTimes reported that the Army was considering issuing smartphones as standard equipment for soldiers. Apple's iPhone, as well as phones running Google Android, were in the running.

Army officials visited the Apple campus last year to discuss the company's future technology as related to battlefield applications. Apple's "it just works" philosophy had drawn the attention of the Army.

"Apple technologies offer unique and proven solutions with intuitive designs that allow users to learn quickly without a training manual," Ron Szymanski, lead computer scientist with the Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, reportedly said. "The Army would like to leverage Apple's experience when designing military operations."

Several iPhone apps have been developed by the Army's Communications-Electronics Research and Development Center in recent years: COIN Collector, a counter-insurgency information collection tool, and MilSpace, a planning and social networking environment.

Photo courtesy U.S. Army, credit C. Todd Lopez

In 2008, it was revealed that the Army had begun using custom iPods as an affordable and lightweight solution for field translation work in Iraq. iPods and iPod nanos were attached to armbands and speakers and modified to run a translation app.

iPod with Vcommunicator Mobile
An iPod nano with Vcommunicator Mobile, armband and speaker for use in the field. | Image credits: U.S. Army.