altittude

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:

Alt1

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:

Alt2

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 17.51.49

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.

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26 Responses to “iPhone 6 likely to sport barometer/air pressure sensors to measure altitude, weather”

  1. This is about as useful as Karen from Mean Girls telling me it is already raining.

    I’m SURE someone climbing a huge mountain, like in the picture, doesn’t have a real barometer and is going to rely on his iPhone/iPad.

    • Tim Jr. says:

      Tell that to Android users.. I’m sure most will say, “we had that already”.. so.. either it’s not useful or it’s been there / done that. lol

      Anyone else?

    • That is correct. If hikers/climbers/runners have a device already without a barometric altimeter, they may be less likely to go spend $350-$500 for one with if everything else on their current device is equivalent and works just fine (my gps tracker is a good example.) But if they’re in the market for a new phone, then this would fill the bill now, wouldn’t it?

      As a frequent trailrunner, should this turn out to be true, I look forward to it, as I’m already ready to throw my cash down for a larger screen.

      I wonder if this may be for a watch though, not for the ip6.

  2. samsung had this in their s3…3 years ago….

  3. ron837192 says:

    To me, this seems to be focused 100% on fitness. Using an altimeter to measure actual elevation is not very accurate (probably far less than GPS) because of fluctuations in local pressure (unless you are constantly calibrating it). Using it to check weather also seems pointless since an always connected device will get far more accurate information from the many available weather services (Dark Sky, etc.).

    However, what barometric pressure does excel vs GPS is measuring relative changes in elevation. If you go for a bike ride or a run and want to know how much you climbed / descended, the GPS will be very inaccurate (especially if you are running or riding on a trail in the trees). A barometric sensor should provide a much better profile for your ride / run.

    • ron837192 says:

      And one more thing … using a barometer to figure out which floor you are on in a building seems highly unrealistic unless Apple has a very creative way of keeping the altimeter constantly calibrated. GPS might help calibrate, but I don’t think that the altitude returned from GPS devices would be accurate enough to get +/- 2m or so which is about how accurate you would need to be to figure out which floor you are on.

      Anyway … it seems pointless since any accurate indoor mapping scheme is going to rely on something like iBeacons, and if you have iBeacons you already would know which floor you are on.

    • So, that explains it. I use Digifit Cardio App on my iPhone. The app uses GPS to calculate time, distance, speed, pace and elevation. When I walk I usually take the same route but the elevation reading is never the same. Once again I learn something every day.

  4. This is exciting news! The Galaxy phones already have barometers, and having another popular phone like the iPhone tracking this information is extremely useful. Some people can make apps that specifically give forecasts for your current spot based on rising and falling pressure. A lot of people are miles or hundreds of miles away from the next closest official weather station where they need to get their weather forecast. This pressure sensor will also help track in real-time where weather systems are if the government agencies don’t have a station in a particular area that a user is in. It can also be used in cases where Hurricanes are passing over cities so you can tell when the Hurricane has left or is arriving.

  5. The reason this is important is because it allows you to determine which floor someone is on when working with indoor location services.

  6. “This weather functionality could potentially even connect to some sort of crowd-sourced weather project”

    This is very interesting since Apple swapped data provider for weather from Yahoo to the Weather channel. They could team up and give really good live data with that many measure points. Imagine a push notification “It will start to rain at your location in 10 minutes” and then it starts to rain in 10 minutes.

  7. herb02135go says:

    Barometers measure temperature.
    Really? I guess there’s no need for a thermometer.

    Once again, Apple copying Samsung.

    • No. Barometers measure air pressure, not temperature. Altimeters measure altitude. The writer of this article lacks knowledge of atmospheric gauges.

    • standardpull says:

      No, these are a fundamental part of the chipsets made by the fab shops. GPS plus barometer and temp sensors have been integrated in GSM chipsets for about a decade. Give credit to Samsung if you wish, but Qualcomm and STSS have been doing it for way longer.

      • You can add TI and Nordic Semi, too. I’ve often been frustrated when mobile makers won’t take advantage of sensor and radio capabilities of chipsets they use. Bluetooth LE and ANT+ supporting chipsets have been used by most Android phones for years, but only a select few afford useable access.

    • mockery17 says:

      Just goes to show the size of your brain. About the size of a peanut.

  8. ummm an iPhone that can predict weather????

  9. Reblogged this on Taste of Apple and commented:
    This would be pretty neat. I’m sure that these sensors would tie into certain apps to enable device specific features that older iPhone won’t be able to tap into. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

  10. scottwilkins says:

    Apple’s really falling behind, so they’ve got a LOT of catching up to do. The iPhone 6 better be a knockout or Apple’s days will start to get shorter.

  11. A barometer isn’t more precise than a GPS measurement since pressure can easily change the altitude data.

    • standardpull says:

      Airplanes use barometer to measure elevation. Ask any pilot. They’re very accurate if you know the ambient pressure at your location. With GPS and the networking, you can know that.

    • standardpull is correct. GPS was never intended to give anything but relative altitude and is particularly bad at determining altitude on the ground.

      Tracker/nav apps which show better altitude accuracy have relied on pinning your GPS waypoints to topography maps. Combining barometric and GPS data, an app can determine highly localised and accurate activity info. Connected devices can be auto-calibrated with data from local weather stations.

      GPS + barometer + biometrics = Better fitness data.

  12. Isn’t the headline wrong?

    This seems like an obvious “likely to be introduced with the ‘iWatch’… and perhaps even iPhone and iPad”.

    Apple’s new wristband is the sensor product.