iPods in Iraq

Music, movies ... and munitions?

US soldiers overseas have a new tool to help them negotiate tricky battlefield interactions: Apple's iPod Touch. The handheld personal-media player is a hit with soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan, Newsweek reports.

What place does an iPod have on the battlefield? The devices are prized for their ability to smooth translations, make sense of cultural nuances, and even help with ballistics calculations.

And they're cheap. The typical military spec. handheld device costs taxpayers between $600 and $700. The California-designed iPod Touch rings up at $230.

The military's expanding into the apps game, as well. According to Newsweek:

The U.S. Marine Corps is funding an application for Apple devices that would allow soldiers to upload photographs of detained suspects, along with written reports, into a biometric database. The software could match faces, making it easier to track suspects after they're released.

This adaptation of a consumer product for military use signals a significant shift in the way these things tend to go. Global Positioning Systems, the Internet, Spam (the kind you [can] eat), and many other everyday products owe their existence to military development. But now iPods, made popular in the consumer personal electronics market, are going the other way.

The Monitor wrote about gadget convergence when Apple's iPhone first came out. The idea being that as electronics companies cram more and more features into new devices, one can consolidate. For the soldiers, that can mean carrying less bulky communications equipment. Lt. Col. Jim Ross, director of the Army’s intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors operations in Fort Monmouth, N.J., says that when it comes to soldiers’ battlefield communications, an iPod “may be all that they need.”

Discussions of the modern soldier and "future tech" often involve talk of smart fabrics and super-strength exoskeletons. Something as simple as an iPod-toting soldier makes those predictions and this photo gallery of the Army's "Future Combat Systems" seem a little Jetsons-esque.

For more: U.S. Soldiers' New Weapon: an iPod [Newsweek]

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