Military officials say iPod hasn't been hacked, is cheap, and robust enough for the battlefield

Apple is the clear leader in the mobile music player category with its dominating iPod line. The company is also a leader in the high-end smartphone market with its iPhone. When Apple first thought up the iPod touch, the engineers probably didn’t think much outside the realm of music, video, and games.

Games may dominate the civilian App Store, but the U.S. government has taken the iPod touch and extended the device to serve functions that Apple likely never dreamed of. In the past, handheld devices for soldiers were large and costly devices that tended to be very narrowly focused in what they could do. Soldiers were using digital translators in the field to speak with the local population for instance.

Soldiers now need to access much more data than simple translations and the military is using the iPod touch for an increasing variety of tasks. According to military officials, "networked warfare" requires each solider to be linked electronically to other troops and weapon systems. The iPod touch is relatively cheap, easy to use, and very robust in the applications it can run.

Soldiers are using the touch in the field already for all sorts of tasks from controlling bomb-disposing robots to calculating ballistics tables for snipers. The Army also says that the iPod has yet to be hacked. An Indiana company called Next Wave Systems is developing an application for the iPhone and iPod touch that would allow soldiers to take a picture of street signs and get up-to-date intel on the street and local population. The application would be able to provide pictures of the local area and any suspects questioned at the location.

The Marine Corps. is funding the development of an app that would allow soldiers to take images of detainees and upload them to a biometric database for easier searching and follow up later.

The touch is also being used for translation with an application called Vcommunicator being issued to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The app produces spoken and written translations for Arabic, Kurdish, and two Afghan languages.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997
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