Elgan: I want a military smartphone
The most innovative and important consumer electronics company isn’t a company at all. It’s the Pentagon.
If that surprises you, consider that U.S. military research built the ocean that Silicon Valley swims in. The Pentagon’s research organization, DARPA, funded or helped develop the Internet, GPS, the graphical user interface, the Google StreetView concept, Siri and much more.
Now, the military wants to put smartphones in the hands of all deployed troops. I think their phones are going to be better than regular smartphones. And that’s why I want one.
The future of phones
Smartphones are already super thin and super light. Some have big screens but are still pocketable. They have powerful processors.
How can the industry maintain the rate of improvement and innovation of the last five years?
Of course, phones will get faster and lighter. Screen resolution will continue to improve.
The industry has other goodies in store, such as flexible screens and flexible phones. Flexibility will make phones more durable because they’ll bend rather than break. Some phones will even be able to fold in half, so you’ll be able to open a phone up like a book and double the screen size.
The industry is also working on ubiquitous wireless charging, edge-to-edge screens and many other innovations.
It’s all cool stuff. But what I really want is the military superphone the Pentagon is working on.
Why I want a military smartphone
Historically, the military’s technology initiatives have been prescient and practical and devoid of those annoying compromises in consumer electronics between what users want and what the industry wants.
Military phones are designed ultimately with the interests of the “users” in mind — not the interests of the cellphone makers or the service providers.
In some ways, the military’s goals for phones are bigger versions of our own goals, but they run counter to the goals of the industry that makes consumer handsets and provides wireless service.
For example, the military wants soldiers to be able to open a Google Maps mashup that shows the location and movements of their allies’ forces. They want to make this as easy as possible, while at the same time making it difficult for enemy hackers to see the same information — even if they get their hands on one of the devices.
That’s what we consumers want, too, right? We want to take advantage of powerful location services without putting our privacy at risk.
The industry, however, wants to convince us that in order to enjoy location services, we’ve got to sacrifice privacy.
The military wants authorized personnel to be able to talk, text and message without the enemy intercepting those messages. So do we consumers.
But the industry wants us to use unsecure text messaging — it costs them almost nothing, and they can charge us a lot for it. Vendors also want us to use unsecure social networks, unsecure email tools and other unsecure means of communication, all over unsecure Wi-Fi and mobile broadband connections.
The military wants phones with batteries that last a long, long time and can be charged by solar power or by hand-cranked generators, or whatever. So do we.
Alternative-energy solutions built into phones are viewed by the industry as unnecessary and contrary to their obsession with out-slimming the competition.
The military wants indestructible, dustproof, shockproof and waterproof handsets that can be upgraded, augmented and enhanced with standard modular plug-in hardware.
The industry, in contrast, benefits financially from selling fragile phones, because when we drop them on the pavement or in the water, we have to buy new ones.