Could the iPhone 5S’s new M7 chip be something of a trojan horse, leading the way for Apple’s wearable-tech debut?
As expected, Apple’s Town Hall September 10th event went by without even a hint of a could-be iWatch, or any sort of wearable tech product. However, during the presentation Phil Schiller did tout an intriguing new iPhone 5S feature — the introduction of an all-new co-processor, dubbed the M7.
The new iPhone 5S co-processor is dedicated to continuously measuring motion, be that via the accelerometer, compass and/or gyroscope. As Alex Colon explains, the M7 chip functions independently of the iPhone’s primary A7 processor, working on sensing when you’re walking, running or driving. Such a chip has plenty of applications, primarily for feeding data into health and fitness apps, but also for saving battery life when travelling, say by car, by stopping your iPhone’s constant hunt for in-range Wi-Fi networks.
In the brief time Phil Schiller dedicated to talking about the M7 co-processor, he gave an example of its use by way of showcasing Nike’s upcoming Nike+ Move app. No doubt it’s hoped that Nike will be leading by example, encouraging other developers to make use of the new co-processors varied capabilities in similar ways.
Could this introduction of a dedicated motion tracker chip hint towards Apple’s future product plans? I think it just might.
We already know that Apple CEO Tim Cook finds the emerging wearable technology space to be one of great intrigue, himself admitting to being a user of Nike’s FuelBand. Back at the D11 conference this May, Cook revealed he finds the wrist “interesting”, adding that wearable tech is an area that’s “ripe for exploration”.
Beyond Cook’s own thoughts and observations, several Apple patents give further credence to the idea that Apple wants in on wearables. The M7 chip could just be the thing to get the ball rolling, setting a trend for a whole set of new apps that make use of its constant motion measuring.
Eventually this new chip will inevitably make its way into a range of other products across the iOS product line, with it growing the number of supported apps. In due course, there will likely be a number of apps that a companion device — namely a wrist-worn gadget of some form — could support.
It may not be a watch, but imagine a FuelBand or FitBit-esque (see disclosure), Apple-designed wrist companion device — M7 chip included — tracking your motion without the need to remember “Is my phone in my pocket?” Heading over to the restroom or leaving the office to make a coffee may seem like small granular activities, but to die-hard app trackers, say for those using a pedometer app, it all adds up. With some form of wrist device, it doesn’t matter if your phone skips the journey and stays at your desk.
It’s here where the M7 co-processor could act as the Trojan Horse for getting plenty of people hooked on apps that a future counterpart device could support, and with enough buy-in from users, it could well be an easy and compelling sell.
Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of GigaOM. Om Malik, founder of GigaOM, is also a venture partner at True.