Today at Apple’s iPhone launch event they announced that the iPhone 5s will have a new motion-sensing co-processor chip called the M7. The chip will allow for measurement of motion data continuously letting apps know if you’re stationary, walking, or driving based on data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. It will also reduce battery drain. Apple will also provide developers access to the chip via a new CoreMotion API which they believe will enable a new generation of health and fitness apps. I was monitoring this news by the Quantified Self community on Twitter and the response was very positive with many praising Apple help in continuing to usher activity tracking into the mainstream.
I think it’s great that Apple is making such a bold statement by creating a dedicated processor for new sensor tracking. This is a great step to further advance the importance of sensors that can be used to help optimize our lives based on contextual data. And this is coming from someone who has switched from iOS to Android as my mobile phone. However we still need to learn exactly what innovative ways developers will be able to tap into the M7 to see if it really provides additional features over dedicated activity tracking devices. I couldn’t find information specifically on the M7 CoreMotion API but it appears it will provide access based on the Core Motion Framework. Based on this image and link from Apple’s developer website:
I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits from Apple’s new hardware commitment in the form of apps that will tap into it. It’s also a good competitive situation that should now produce some new developments in the Android camp. All of this is good for the evolution of wearable tech. However I still feel that the phone isn’t the right device as an activity platform. I saw some folks proclaiming that with M7 Apple will kill activity trackers like the Fitbit and Fuelband. I saw the same types of statements made by people who discovered and began using the Moves app. I’m a fan of the app and am in fact testing it on Android right now, but a mobile phone will never replace an activity tracker for me. I believe many people like myself don’t carry a phone 24/7 during their daily routine. I work from home and usually leave the phone in my office as I go about my day. I also don’t have my phone when I workout playing racquetball or basketball. There are also many other activities that don’t lend themselves to using a phone for tracking like water sports such as swimming and many other physical activities.
In any case the M7 as well as new hardware to advance sensors and activity tracking is welcome news. I saw someone mention online that this could be a step gleaning a future Apple smartwatch announcement. This makes sense as they will begin building a category of activity tracking and health apps that could be made available at launch. Apple’s M7 announcement included support for longtime partner Nike with an app called Nike+ Move that will most likely offer gamification tie ins with the Game Center. Yes, if this is a plan to build a foundation for apps to be included with an iWatch announcement it’s a good one.