The US Army will soon launch its version of an app store, where soldiers can download Army-relevant software to their work computers and -- with a little luck -- mobile phones. Called "Army Marketplace," it's scheduled to become fully operational in August.
The store is currently a restricted website, but they're working on a storefront app for smartphones. So far, there are 17 apps for Android phones and another 16 for iPhones. The best thing is that soldiers can bypass the arduous process of creating apps for the Army and instead directly submit their wish list for specialized programs that don't yet exist:
Imagine that a soldier wants an app instructing how to call for artillery fire, and the app doesn't exist yet. The soldier would post a description of what she needs on a Marketplace forum, attracting discussion from fellow soldiers and potential designers.
If other troops can't home-brew a solution, the Army would open a bidding or contracting process from would-be vendors who've expressed interest on the thread. Ideally, the app would be available on Marketplace not long thereafter, with a nominal purchase price, a la the App Store or Android Market.
You'll have to be a member of the Department of Defense community to see the store and access its wares. It'll be hosted on a secure DOD server and require a username and password from intranets like Army Knowledge Online. Army Marketplace's designers are also working on personalized user pages to facilitate the app exchange. On them, customers announce their needed apps, propose new ones, and exchange criticism. On the right hand side of that inside page are auto-generated lists of "Top Ideas" and "Top Projects" that others have generated.
Eventually, the Army will host apps that track the location of friendly forces or map out wartime terrain or translate foreign languages. Software writers and defense companies have already created all of those. On top of that, the Army will launch its second Apps for the Army contest later this year as a way to generate both more apps and a constituency for them inside the service.
The Army recently made an announcement that they would begin testing Android as a possible software solution for the first-ever smartphone designed for the US military.
The Army said Google's mobile operating system might power the Joint Battle Command Platform Handheld, which is designed to drive a range of specialized apps, such as tactical ground reporting, GPS tracking and mapping. Things could change in Apple's favor, however, because Android is still a long way from being certified as a secure and trusted platform the Army requires.