The Army’s Special Operations Command is dumping Android and moving to Apple’s iPhone, after field tests demonstrated that iOS devices outperformed their Android counterparts. Currently, the Army’s special forces uses the Android Tactical Assault Kit (AKAT, pictured below), but the devices have been plagued with problems.
DoDBuzz reports that their source, who isn’t authorized to speak to the media, claims that the ATAK will freeze and fail to properly refresh the screen when soldiers attempt to simultaneously view the camera feed from an overhead drone while displaying the drone’s projected route. It’s obviously important to keep both sides of that particular feed updated in real time, or soldiers won’t know if what they’re seeing from the feed is accurately synchronized to the drone’s current coordinates.
“It’s seamless on the iPhone,” DoDBuzz’s source claimed. “The graphics are clear, unbelievable.”
The ATAK (and presumably the iTAK) is similar to the Army’s Nett Warrior system, which consists of a smartphone connected to a radio. The special operations forces’ use a different radio from the standard Nett Warrior model, however, and the two aren’t fully compatible. The military has plans to standardize both systems on another radio model, but these upgrades aren’t expected to be in place until 2020.
The military refused to officially state whether it was considering the upgrade or not, and shifting the program from Android to iOS might not be trivial. The initial ATAK program was in development for several years before deployment and government agencies aren’t known for snap rollouts or decisions. Then again, it seems the military has at least explored the iOS option as a possibility, even if a switch hasn’t been officially confirmed.
It’s not clear why Android devices would struggle with this workload while iOS would run it smoothly. There’s no mention of which Samsung device, specifically, is having problems and some of the ATAK literature available online implies that the application suite runs on a tablet rather than a phone. The most reasonable explanation is that initial development may well have focused on tablets during the 2012-2014 period, while the military could’ve chosen to actually launch the hardware with a large-screen phablet. The Galaxy Note family from Samsung would be a reasonable fit for this use-case (keeping in mind that this is speculation, not fact).
Frequent lockups and crashes could point to anything from problems with big.Little’s workload shifting between various CPU cores, to generic memory leaks, to thermal limitations of the underlying hardware. Apple’s focus on strong dual-core performance could make it easier to implement a split-screen system in iOS — just dedicate one CPU core to each task. If the Army is considering a switch, we’d expect Samsung to pull out all the stops to keep the contract — military contracts are typically an excellent source of long-term revenue and there’s a prestige benefit to providing the hardware that America’s armed forces depend on in the field. If the military is evaluating other solutions, it may be a sign that it doesn’t think the problems with its current hardware can be solved via software update.