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Next Gen iPhone: Asahi Kasei Confirmed for Digital Compass

Apple Insider lets us know who's been tapped to provide the magnetometer (digital compass) for the new iPhone hardware expected to hit at WWDC 2009:

People familiar with betas of the iPhone 3.0 software developers kit recently dug up several header files attributed to the Japanese manufacturer in a directory appropriately labeled "compass." More specifically, the files identify Asahi Kasei's azimuth sensor No. AK8973, a 16-pin leadless IC package measuring 4mm square and 0.7mm thick, as the chip that will help future iPhone users determine their direction. It bundles a master clock oscillator.

As already evident in the Android G1, a digital compass allows for a better Google Street View experience, but can also make things like turn-by-turn navigation and other orientation-based functions smoother and more precise.

Apple Insider also states that this is but one of three new, confirmed hardware features, the others being a better, video-capable camera and a faster, 802.11n Wi-Fi chip.

Rene Ritchie
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

12 Comments
  • Sweet.
  • It would seem that this does indeed confirm new hardware for all the doubters out there
  • All we need now is more Ram
  • and a larger battery
  • It sounds like a bit of a nothing feature.
  • Ooo. Sounds good.
    802.11n =]
  • Meh... what's next, a pair of retractable binoculars? :roll:
  • @Frog:
    It sounds like a bit of a nothing feature.
    Perhaps it does at first blush, but when you read the specs on this chip you find out some interesting things which sets your mind wondering about applications.
    First, the compass is a three plane compass, (three compasses in one) It can provide magnetic direction in three planes, X, Y, and Z (Think if it in aeronautical terms as Heading, Pitch, Role. Yaw can be deduced once you are motion by use of the GPS).
    It can sense the orientation of the phone as it sits on a desk, or as you move it around in your hand or in your pocket. The accuracy is 1.4 degree steps in all three planes.
    Because of the technology involved in magnetic sensing, the readings need to be adjusted for temperature, so the chip has a separate temperature sensor, which can be used to tell the local temp (inside the phone), from -30 to +90 degrees Centigrade, to within .4 degrees of accuracy.
    This temperature data can be separately read out and used to invalidate your warranty :-P or display the phones temp. If the chip is located away from the heat generating components in the phone (CPU and screen backlight), such as against the lower back cover of the phone, you also get a built in mini local weather station, or body heat sensor.
    The phone will know its in your pocket as opposed to a purse or external case.
    It can make all 4 of these measurements (XYZ+T) in 12.56ms starting from a power down state, and returning to power down automatically as soon as the measurement is complete, which translates into very good power conservation. Each measurement is automatically time stamped.
    Some of this information would be redundant with the accelerometer, (which appears to operate in one plane only). But that is a good thing in that one sensor can be used to calibrate another. ("Swinging
    " the compass as you drive)
    If the accelerometer says the top edge of the phone is down, but the compass says the top of the phone is up, the phone is falling - Fast. So what? Well this can be used to invalidate your warranty BEFORE it hits the ground, or as a WII like controller for games.
    So thinking beyond the obvious Mapping application and Geotagging of photos, there are a lot of gaming applications that can be developed when you can sense not only roll (like the current phone) but also the exact direction,angle,tilt,upside,downside, of the phone.
    Wire sensing, current measurement (is this 220 volt circuit hot?) can be done by measuring magnetic deflection when the phone is held close to a wire.
    Turn by turn becomes more precise, because you don't have to be in motion for the GPS to sense heading.
    Temperature readings can be collected and graphed.
    The phone will know who you currently have a crush on by how warm your hand gets when she calls.
    Throw in some clever APP developer to measure wind noise at the Mic as you swing the phone 360 degrees and you also get wind direction and speed estimates.
    Really, don't dismiss this as a pointless sop to google street view. It has a lot of potential.
  • How many times have you pulled up your GPS location, only to wonder which direction you are facing? I'll be honest there have been times where I wasn't sure which direction I needed to go to start following a Google map on the iPhone. Current Google Maps software always makes "up" to be north, but with a compass like this, there may now be a setting to make the direction you are facing to be "up" on the phone's map, just like your car GPS device does. This is a huge feature, I have seen way too many people saying things like "why do I want a compass" and on and on... Apple would not be putting this in just so that you have a compass, it's going to enhance many applications on iPhone.
  • I think everyone who reads this comments section just got alot more excited about the digital compass. Thanks icebike and Al. Very informative.
  • There is already an app that measures wind speed by converting the volume of the wind on the mic into a wind speed reading. http://www.goingapps.com
  • While surfing Bing I came across this post...very interesting! I enjoy reading about this type of information. I'll certainly bookmark your site for additional review