iPod Touch: The iPod of War

The "funnest iPod ever" has become deadly serious as U.S. military soldiers depend on the iPod Touch in war zones.

Apple calls the iPod Touch the "funnest iPod ever," but now the popular device has a new moniker: the iPod of war. The U.S. military is doling out the iPod Touch to soldiers in war zones in the Middle East, according to a Newsweek report.

At their fingertips, soldiers can stay electronically linked to other troops, tap applications for language translation and cultural information, and access data such as maps, photos, videos and voice recordings. A variety of protective covers fit the iPod Touch casing—does it come in camo? Glare and scratch resistant coatings stick onto the touch-sensitive screen. All of which makes the iPod Touch rugged enough for a soldier in the field.

Some interesting apps are in the works, ranging from aerial video to teleconferencing. Indeed, the military wants a common platform to develop mobile applications. "Given the ubiquity of the iPod, the platform is perfect for military applications assuming that Apple and the [Department of Defense] can harden the system as needed," says Enterprise Strategy Group security analyst Jon Oltsik.

Newsweek reports other interesting applications: "Snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan now use a 'ballistics calculator' called BulletFlight, made by Knight's Armament for the iPod Touch and iPhone. Army researchers are developing applications to turn an iPod into a remote control for a bomb-disposal robot (tilting the iPod steers the robot)."

Best of all, the iPod Touch is easy to use and costs about $300 depending on memory capacity. "From the military's perspective, the iPod Touch is a relatively low cost programmable device that has integrated Wi-Fi connectivity," says Gartner analyst Van Baker. "If it suits their needs, then it makes sense to adopt it rather than design a ruggedized low volume device that costs thousands of dollars apiece. Why waste the money?"

Given the iPod Touch's new war spin, Baker expects some negative coverage to come out of the blogosphere. But this won't put a permanent smudge on iPod Touch's funnest image, he says. Nevertheless, such military usage is bound to bring a heightened level of seriousness—or is it security?—to the consumer-friendly device.

Got a different take? Send me an email at Tom Kaneshige. Or follow me on Twitter @kaneshige.

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