Besides a larger display and redesigned metal body, details regarding which features the next-generation iPhone models will pack have been light. However, it appears that the new models could include a new sensor: a barometer.
A barometer is a sensor commonly used for measuring altitude and the sensor is already commonly found in Android devices such as the Galaxy Nexus. A barometer sensor could be used by hikers, mountain climbers, bike riders, and enthusiasts who want accurate knowledge into their current altitude. Barometers, via air pressure data, also measure temperature and weather information.
The information regarding the next-generation iPhone likely including this sensor comes via Xcode 6 and iOS 8, the latest iPhone software development kit and operating system. The software includes updated CoreMotion APIs that clearly reference the new altitude measuring capabilities:
There are several applications on the App Store, even highlighted for the iPad by Apple on its own website, that can track altitude. However, this reference in Xcode 6 and iOS 8 is a new framework that is dedicated to altitude tracking and requires new Apple hardware, according to developers.
Current altitude tracking applications use the iOS Device’s existing GPS and Motion chips to track altitude, but a barometer is more accurate and quicker to load data as it is a dedicated chip for tracking. As can be seen in a secondary reference, the framework first checks if the iOS device supports altitude tracking:
Developer Ortwin Gentz from FutureTap pointed us to these references, and he tested the framework on an iPhone 5s, the latest-generation of the iPhone. According to Gentz, the framework returned a “No” to indicate that the iPhone 5s does not not support the reporting of altitude changes based on this new framework. With the help of a noted developer, we wrote our own code to test the framework and we received the same not-supported-by-the-iPhone-5s result. This likely indicates that this new altitude tracking functionality is reserved for unreleased Apple devices. Since the feature is packed into iOS 8, it is likely that the feature will be integrated to new products launching in the fall such as the iPhone 6, new iPads, and even the iWatch.
Additionally, with the help of Hamza Sood, we’ve located references to ambient pressure tracking in iOS 8. This plays into determining weather in addition to altitude. For instance, a barometer can analyze air pressure to determine incoming rain or sunshine, and this also could open up a new ecosystem of App Store applications for professionals like pilots and enthusiasts like mountain climbers. This weather functionality could potentially even connect to some sort of crowd-sourced weather project. The barometer will also extensively integrate with iOS 8’s new location tracking capabilities for indoor-mapping and determining what floor of a building a user is on.
An earlier rumor that indicated that the iPhone 6 could feature temperature and pressure sensors also said that the device could include a new humidity sensor. It is likely that the new sensors will become part of the iPhone 6’s M8 motion co-processor. The M8 will be a component of the A8 processor, which we previously reported is designed for improved efficiency and battery life, not for significant architectural changes like last year’s 64-bit A7 system-on-a-chip. Apple has indicated its vast interest in sensors, and the company has added new sensors to the iPhone, such as a gyroscope in 2010, over the past several years.
According to sources at Apple, the Cupertino-company has been working on an updated version of the Compass application that includes altitude tracking, so perhaps that application, which was originally added in 2009 alongside the iPhone 3GS, is what customers will utilize to track their altitude. Last year with iOS 7, Apple added a level feature to the Compass application along with a completely redesigned user-interface, and the updated Compass features were considered at the time of iOS 7’s development, so perhaps plans have changed by 2014 and the data will be presented via other means.