Android, iPhone platforms dominate Apps for Army

In unveiling the winners this week of the Army’s first-ever application development challenge, Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Sorenson said that the contest demonstrated more than the technical creativity of enlisted soldiers and Army civilians. It also demonstrated a new model for dealing with the military’s notoriously cumbersome acquisition process.

It may also have demonstrated something else: The momentum Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android operating systems are gaining inside the traditionally walled-off world of military networks.

Conceived as a way to develop and deliver applications to Army personnel more quickly than the traditional acquisition process normally allows, the Apps for Army challenge avoided many of the hurdles that often result in software projects taking years to deliver. There was no need, for instance, for the usual requirements documents, requests for proposals and lengthy development and testing cycles.

And by partnering with the Defense Information Systems Agency, using its Rapid Access Computing Environment, the Army found a way for participating developers to certify their apps quickly.

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“I think this portends a different way in which we hope to develop future applications to meet military requirements,” Sorenson, the Army’s chief information officer/G-6, said at a Defense Department media roundtable Aug. 4 during the LandWarNet conference in Tampa, Fla.

Andrew Jenkins and Alex Ly of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center at Ft. Belvoir, Va., are two of the 141 soldiers and civilians who participated in the contest. Their application, designed to assist Army personnel working in humanitarian relief and civilian affairs, was one 53 Web and mobile applications to be submitted and one of five to take a top prize. The Web application they developed surveys, analyzes and disseminates data, making it easier to search, edit and create maps viewable on Google Earth and Google Maps. Their software development platform of choice, Ly said, was Android.

Of the 15 winning applications, 10 were built using Android, a software stack for mobile devices that includes an operating system, middleware and key applications, using Java programming language. The other five applications were built using the iPhone’s software platform.

Ly, a computer scientist, and Jenkins, a geographer, developed their winning app in their spare time and decided Android was more flexible to use, compared with the iPhone software development kit, where the terms of use are more restrictive. Ly said they did virtually all of their development on their own servers until the application was finished, and then moved it onto RACE for final testing and certification.

With more than 225,000 third-party apps now available for the iPhone and iPad, developers clearly aren’t shying away from iPhone’s software.

Among them are Maj. Gregory Motes, Capt. Christopher Braunstein and Capt. Stacey Osborn, of Ft. Gordon, Ga., who set out to turn a 400-page physical readiness training manual into an iPhone app, complete with training videos. Their work paid off, earning them one of the five top prizes and $3,000. Motes said his team would probably use some of the prize money to buy new iPhone 4s, but otherwise, they planned to donate the proceeds to a local charity.

While Army officials continue to use Research in Motion’s BlackBerry and devices using Windows Mobile software, many concede that the iPhone and, now, Android have established a new paradigm for rapid and flexible mobile application development that senior military leaders are anxious to take advantage of.

Mote said one reason more participants opted not use Microsoft’s platform for the challenge was because of Microsoft’s recent announcement that it had rescheduled until late this year the release of its new Windows Phone 7 platform — and that phones running Mobile 6.x won’t be upgradeable. Mote said it didn’t make sense for his group to adapt their app to a Windows platform mobile until after the new release becomes available.

In the meantime, the Army is making all 25 of the winning and certified applications available for download for DOD Common Access Card holders through the Defense Department’s online application storefront at Details on each of the winning apps can be found on the Army CIO/G-6 Web site.

As for what’s next, Sorenson said the Army and some of the other services, including the U.S. Marine Corps, are considering hosting more contests in the future. There are also discussions to collaborate with commercial developers.

Sorenson also envisioned a time, “as soon as next year,” he said, when the Army would consider supplying iPhones and Android smart phones to soldiers in the field.

And it could be sooner. The Army’s Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, which manages the Army Knowledge Online portal and its Go-Mobile program, is in the process of certifying the use of commercially available iPhone and Android-based smart phones for use on the AKO network.

Col. Earl Noble, who heads up Network Enterprise Services PEO-EIS, said the certification could come before the end of this year, giving the iPhone and Android platforms a significant new foothold among AKO’s more than 2 million users.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.


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