iPhones have been used as remote controls for drones before, but now the drone doesn't need to be in sight — it can be anywhere, just like true military models.
A group of engineers at Boeing teamed up with students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Humans and Automation Lab to build an iPhone app that flies a drone 3,000 miles away. The controllers were in Seattle, while the drone was at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. It's called the Micro Aerial Vehicle Visualization of Unexplored Environments, or MAV-VUE.
All that's needed is a cell phone or Wi-Fi data connection. One thing that makes this control system different is that it allows for simpler control of the drone — that is, the pilot doesn't need to manage every second of the flight, as the drone's software is more robust. One way to look at it is the amount of attention a controller has to give to a typical remote-controlled airplane or helicopter — it takes a lot of skill to pilot one well without smashing a window (or the plane).
The military has been using drones for a long time, but those machines are big, expensive and take a long time to master. This kind of drone might work when you need a drone but don't have the time to find a trained pilot. Boeing, on its web site, uses checking the extent of a forest fire as an example. It would also work well for missions where having a person at the controls for hours at a stretch might not be feasible.