Steve Jobs’ Influence on the Military

Apple founder Steve Jobs, the Bay Area-bred Buddhist, tech mogul and non-conformist who died yesterday, may not be the first person you associate with the military —  he even issued the famous quote “it’s more fun to be a pirate than join the navy” — his inventions have indeed helped transform the military.

First off, it was largely Jobs who brought the easy to use graphical user interface and mouse to the masses with the Macintosh computer. The Mac and other Jobs’ creations ushered in the spirit of the modern Internet long before it existed by allowing average people to use computers to produce and share information. In the decade and a half after the Mac’s release we’d see the major computer companies producing personal computers — inspired by the Mac — that ran easy to use software flooding average consumers’ houses — and these computers were soon connected to one another by the World Wide Web. This has led to an unbelievable and ongoing explosion of creativity, for both good and bad, around the globe. In other words, his actions helped kick off the democratization of technology that now allows millions of hackers around the globe to harness knowledge and digital destructive power that keeps Pentagon planners up at night. Just browse DT’s cyber security section for more information on how much of a threat these hackers can be.

Meanwhile, the iPhone that I’ve posted articles onto this blog from basically ushered in the modern smartphone only four years ago. Yes, Blackberry brought the smartphone to the masses, but Jobs’ iPhone completely changed the game by making a device that was (in my opinion) the epitome of almost everything a smartphone should be, and then some. Heck, the iPhone makes Captain Kirk’s communicator, envisioned by Star Trek’s 1960s writers as the pinnacle of 23rd Century technology, look downright hokey. The iPhone and all the copycat’s that have come since also made a lot of very expensive and very cumbersome military technology look downright hokey.

How many times have we heard of Army generals complaining that they want their troops to have the mobile computing and communications power of an iPhone? Well, as sister site Kit Up! is reporting, the Army is looking to swap its bulky Nett Warrior radio designs for an Android smartphone connected to a secure Joint Tactical Radio System terminal. This makes sense, a modern smartphone, loaded with the right aps can do just about all the things that Nett Warrior’s “17-pound GPS” was supposed to do.

The links between the military and Apple sometimes go in the opposite direction — the new iPhone 4S’ Siri personnal assistant has its origins in a Pentagon translation project.

As computing technology gets smaller, more powerful, easier to use and more universally distributed you can expect it to have a continuing impact on the way wars are waged. All of these things that are now cornerstones of the global tech revolution were also hallmarks of Steve Jobs’ designs — designs that helped usher in that revolution.

  • Musson1

    “Let’s put it on the shelf and see if anyone buys it.”

    Steve Jobs to Steve Wozniak in a garage in California.

  • Lance

    Even know I disliked mac computers I do think alot of people will miss a bright man like Steve Jobs may he rest in peace.

  • Vstress

    Did he ever invent anything? I’m sorry, but what I saw in the guy was marketing genius.

    He knew how to adapt products to appeal to people and market them.

    The ipod was nothing new, the iphone was nothing new etc.

    • joekatzman

      “Adapting products to appeal to people” is precisely where his competitors have so often and signally failed. That isn’t just marketing genius, it’s a form of technical genius too.

      Bill Gates himself said while on stage with Steve that if he could just one thing from Steve, it would be his “taste” - and when the crowd laughed, Bill got serious and it it wasn’t a trivial thing at all, it was really important. What he meant by it was a genius for seeing how to make the whole fit together really well, and work. If that’s so easy, or “just marketing,” more people would have done it.

  • Kevin

    I met Steve once when I was at Netscape - He was unforgettable! What a loss to the entire technology community. He will be missed greatly.

  • Steve B.

    I would argue that it was Palm and their follow on, Handspring that ushered in the Smartphone, not Blackberry, which was mostly used for corporate e-mail functions.

    As to Steve Jobs ?, my take is he led a company that developed key products, Mac computer, iPod, iPhone and iPad, that are still the benchmark of excellence in design and function, which all others aspire to.

    I own an iPod, that’s it. But I still recognize that had there been no Macinotsh computer out there, Windows as an OS, if it existed at all, would still suck, as opposed to it currently being a fair product. Ditto the Android OS for smartphones and tablets. Without Apple, would they even exist ?.

    Without Jobs leading his company to where it is today, would we have a Defence Tech website to be commenting on ?. Probably not.

    Game changer was SJ.

    • Vstress

      A lot of things can be attributed to the advance in technology, not specifically apple.

      Most operating systems improve due to hardware advances, as the OS is adapted to utilise them.

  • ew-3

    Before we thank Steve Jobs for anything, thank the tens of thousands of engineers that created the products he sold. He was a clever man. He could see the value of an idea and could take advantage of it in a business sense.
    We actually owe a bigger thanks to Ken Olsen the founder of DEC. The developments that came out of DEC far exceed any corporation other then IBM and possibly Intel.

    • joe

      Agreed. He was a visionary, and a great role model for his company, but to assume he personally designed everything is a little optimistic.

      That said, he was both a great external salesman and a great internal motivator, so I’m sure Apple will miss him a lot.

      And the comment about commercial gear is spot on. Most of the recent conflicts have shown how scarily good modern civil communications is for…well…everything. The smartphone with a bit of encryption software and a ruggedized temporary base station is probably the best military comms idea I’ve heard in a while. You can even leave the latter in a village after you go and “hey! they made the phones work again!”.

      Plus it can lead to some mildly amusing situations in combat situations. “Air support? I’ve got an app* for that…”

      * I now have a mental image of an Angry Birds sequel featuring A-10s….

  • Musson1

    Interestingly - Jobs made much more money investing in PIXAR than in founding Apple.

  • Brian

    Steve Jobs was able to convince me to spend $300 on a cell phone, when other companies were offering cell phones for free. That’s genius right there.

    At the end of the day, tech guys make products for tech guys. They think it’s a feature that you can go inside and write your own operating system. They think spending a weekend installing new hardware and updating drivers and overclocking their motherboard sounds like fun. Steve Jobs’ genius was in making tech stuff for normal people. I don’t want to spend hours trying to set up my new toy. I want it to work out of the box. He took technology away from the nerds and gave it to the masses.

  • Gunner777

    Besides being a police officer for 30 years I taught computer science on the side. What I taught was PC based but I went home and used my Mac:-)

  • Darren

    Intersting reading. I think not. The article waxes lyrical about the iphone right up til this quote;

    “How many times have we heard of Army generals complaining that they want their troops to have the mobile computing and communications power of an iPhone? Well, as sister site Kit Up! is reporting, the Army is looking to swap its bulky Nett Warrior radio designs for an Android smartphone connected to a secure Joint Tactical Radio System terminal.”

    Ummm Android is not Iphone compatible. So do the trrops get both?

  • GC

    It’ is not complety secure too. Is better not use thid for serious information , all in the internet say about it . What is worst ? Telecomunications insecurity or soldiers using smathphones without careless. Sometimes the guilty is not of the user else the guy that give it to the user or noth teach how to use with security. technology isn’t for all . All people isn’t careless.