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Besides the main 64-bit A7 processor in the new iPhone 5s, Apple has included a dedicated motion co-processor called the M7. The chip powers many of the sensor technologies in the iPhone, such as the accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope in order to move the weight off of those technologies from the phone’s main chip. This, in turn, will make the new iPhone more efficient for both performance and battery life for the user.

Apple briefly explained some of the consumer-facing abilities of the M7 motion chip, highlighting that the chip could greatly enhance fitness apps such as those from Nike. But, just like with the new iPhone’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner, Apple’s ambitions for the M7 are greater than those discussed earlier this week. According to a source with knowledge of the chip’s development, Apple plans to tightly integrate the chip with its own Maps service in the coming years.

On its official website, Apple presents a brief teaser of what the M7 can do, highlighting a feature in the iPhone 5s (which was not discussed during the keynote presentation):

M7 knows when you’re walking, running, or even driving. For example, Maps switches from driving to walking turn-by-turn navigation if, say, you park and continue on foot. Since M7 can tell when you’re in a moving vehicle, iPhone 5s won’t ask you to join Wi-Fi networks you pass by. And if your phone hasn’t moved for a while, like when you’re asleep, M7 reduces network pinging to spare your battery.

As Apple explains, the M7 can tell when an iPhone 5s user is in a moving vehicle. With this knowledge, the iPhone 5s will not try to join WiFi networks that come up around your car (which will save battery life). An even more helpful feature is that Maps will be able to automatically transition from driving directions to walking directions as you leave your car. While this functionality is interesting, we’re told that Apple is working on further enhancements for the future.

Sources say that Apple is testing a tool for its Maps app that, with the M7 chip, could analyze when your car is parked. When you park your car, the iPhone will register the car’s location. Now when you return to the parking lot, your iPhone will be able to help you assist with finding your car since it knows the vehicle’s location.

Besides the car-finding feature, Apple is also working on other mapping features. Apple is said to be planning notable updates to its Maps app in iOS 8, and the company is currently working on implementing both public transit directions and indoor mapping features (which Google already has on iOS). Over the past few months, Apple has acquired several companies that focus on transit, so it should not be too surprising that the company is working on integrating its new data into its Maps app. It is currently unconfirmed if Apple is on target to ship the new Maps with the next major iOS release, but it is the current plan.

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17 Responses to “iPhone’s M7 motion processor to integrate with Maps as Apple develops indoor mapping, public transit”

  1. This M7 could also be a real-world trial of a chip that might end up powering say, a watch, or a new nano with advanced personal tracking capabilities…

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  2. You con’t need M7 to determine speed and direction…GPS and AGPS combined with the magnetometer (compass) on the previous iPhones can already do that. I think M7 is probably better designed and will have more APIs, but implying that the previous gen. iPhones are not capable of determining if you’re driving or walking is just not true.

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    • Why won’t it be capable. When you are driving first you have mostly higher speed then walking. Then it’s mostly linear. But when you are walking it’s also a up and down movement at constant low speed. It is not that hard to determine.

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    • Randy Jantz says:

      I don’t think anyone is saying that current gen iPhones aren’t already capable of those things, clearly it is and already has apps that do those things. What they are saying is that using the M7 chip for those functions will allow the phone to operate more efficiently.

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      • Craig Jones says:

        You don’t think anyone is saying that? The author of the article clearly is. He credits capabilities over and over to the existence of the M7 itself. Read the headline!

        M7 is a way of conserving power, not delivering new capability. Conserving power MAY enable new capability but how its done is beside the point.

        Of course coprocessors are nothing new, not even to current smartphones. Moto X does the same. Samsung’s Octacore takes a different approach to the problem. This is just hype and means nothing to the user experience.

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  3. Does the M7 also track GPS/AGPS locations? Or does those fire up the A7 to register location data?

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    • degraevesofie says:

      Does the M7 also track GPS/AGPS locations? Or does those fire up the A7 to register location data?

      No, it only tracks relatively passive sensors (i.e., those that can be queried in a low-power state): accelerometer, magnetometer, and MEMS gyroscope.

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  4. degraevesofie says:

    Speed and direction as provided by A-GPS and the magnetometer isn’t sufficient to determine whether you’re driving or walking. The accelerometer has the critical data, and that was previously not available when the device was not fully awake. (Besides, for some of these applications A-GPS’ power drain is impractical.)

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    • Well, I do have a hard time maintaining 40MPH when I walk, but your comment about power drain is very valid. iOS7 allows an app to process in the background, and if such an app could minimize battery drain while processing movement, that would be very nice. I haven’t looked at the new CoreMotion API yet.

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      • degraevesofie says:

        Well, I do have a hard time maintaining 40MPH when I walk […]

        It’s the ambiguity in the other way that’s a problem: Plenty of situations call of 5mph driving.

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  5. Combining accelerometer and gyroscope, the chip would know everything about your motion (6 degree of freedom), one integration you get speed, another integration you get displacement. With initial location determined by GPS or A-GPS, the chip basically can know your real time location, speed, and acceleration. GPS only need to fire up occasionally to give feedback to correct the location after some time. Now the M7 does all the motion work and saves energy, it’s a brilliant idea.

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  6. Watch this Wifislam (acquired by Apple) presentation to understand the job to be done by the M7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGdvjvla1Tc

    In particular, around the 33 minute mark.

    Yes, this is pretty big stuff.

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  7. Rob Smithson says:

    A bit annoyed that it will be another year before the Maps app has public transit figured out. For that whole thing being such a bungle you’d think they would have gotten it in to iOS 7 or ready for iOS 7.1

    FWIW I have had much better luck with Apple Maps than the Google Maps app the last 3 months or so. Don’t know why that is.

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  8. M7 reveals the A7 is focused on speed (this is basically a GPU), with a leaky CMOS process.
    M7 is focused on stand-by time use-cases, its process may be compatible with the implémentation of accurate A/D converters.
    It will be interesting to see the architecture split between the audio Codec (voice sensor) and the other sensor hubs.

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