Health IT

iPhone 5S’s “motion coprocessor” is another step into the digital health domain for Apple

Underneath all of the chatter about the new fingerprint scanner on the next iteration of the iPhone that Apple unveiled yesterday, there’s another new feature that some are saying could make the iPhone 5S the “ultimate tracking device”. The phone will contain what Apple calls the M7 “motion coprocessor” to continuously collect data from the […]

Underneath all of the chatter about the new fingerprint scanner on the next iteration of the iPhone that Apple unveiled yesterday, there’s another new feature that some are saying could make the iPhone 5S the “ultimate tracking device”.

The phone will contain what Apple calls the M7 “motion coprocessor” to continuously collect data from the iPhone’s accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. Shifting that duty away from the phone’s standard A7 processor means it won’t take so much juice from the phone’s battery.

With the release of a new CoreMotion API, developers will be able build apps that leverage that continuous stream of data. Nike was the first company to say it will do just that when it tweeted about a new Nike+ Move app for the 5S.

Back when rumors began swirling about the possibility of a fitness-focused iWatch, I reached out to Husni Abu Samrah, a developer whose company MobiStine develops apps for healthcare and medical organizations to get his take. One opportunity he shared with me for mobile device companies was building in more sensors that apps could draw more rich data from. While the iPhone 5S’s new feature won’t add any new sensing capabilities to the phone, it still has big implications for health and fitness app developers.

Popular fitness trackers today like FitBit Flex, Jawbone Up and Nike FuelBand house accelerometers in wearable bands that transfer data via Bluetooth to smartphone apps. If the integrated M7 can deliver on its promise to preserve the phone’s battery life while continuously collecting sensor data, and if the iPhone’s sensors are as accurate as those in wearable devices, the new phone could thwart the need for those extra devices.

That could mean making self-tracking more accessible, convenient and comprehensive for people who aren’t motivated to go out and drop $100 to $200 on a wristband device. And, as Samrah pointed out, the cost of those devices seems to be a barrier to adoption of mobile tracking apps.

At the same time, though, that could spell bad news for companies that make their money off of the pricey hardware.

I suspect, though, that at least for now, avid athletes will continue to favor the wearable sensors that don’t require them to carry around a phone.

The 16GB version of the 5S will carry a price tag of $199 with a two-year contract or $649 unlocked.