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Apple’s M7 chip is the Trojan Horse for its wearable computing plans

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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.

16 Responses to “Apple’s M7 chip is the Trojan Horse for its wearable computing plans”

  1. fredhstein

    Great article. I’d go further. M7 becomes the core (pun intended) of new UI. The “input” is data gathered which the M7 plus other contextual data, such as your calendar, your personal tastes, your social graph, traffic conditions, and other information pertaining to you that you do NOT actively enter. The “output” is notifications, curated by your own filters and by some AI. The output can be displayed by a wrist and/or heads-up, and/or audible device.

    This will be huge.

    I’m convinced Apple will do something along these lines – just my intuition.

    And they may not be the first.

  2. Jhonatan Alonso Elu

    I think Apple has put the m7 chip in the iPhone 5s just to test it’s efficiency at measuring in real life conditions, to test battery drainage, and lower the cost of the chip by mass producing it before implementing it in a wearable.


      Agree, we need to see first how M7 behaves, how battery survive and what developers can do with it ? But looks interesting …
      Now I would no have iPhone 5s with me during all sports activities, so something else is required: iWatch ?

  3. My concern is that combined w/ the fingerprint reader, which has a sinister side to it (no, I don’t mean left vs right), Apple may be capturing more data than most users would anticipate. Finger print – heart rate, evidence for any court proceeding and it opens your phone w/o password so phone’s contents admissible, possible health problems etc.

    The linkage to “wearable technology” will require some type of transmission and reception. If so, it can be monitored easily by anyone w/ a scanner hitting the proper freqs. Police already can monitor almost all cell calls. Is it legal w/o warrant? Well the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (highest court in Commonwealth) has said such monitoring needs NO warrant. the information is available to anyone.

    There is technology readily available that allows someone near you to “scan” your cell phone and make a copy of its contents or at least part of its contents just by being in close proximity and having a minute or so.

    We cherish our freedoms, yet willingly allow them to be used for commercial gain and for “the common good” (police powers).

    1984 is in the past but it hasn’t passed. Watch Apple’s 1984 Super-Bowl “1984” comm’l. We are becoming THAT audience

    Richard Isacoff [email protected]

  4. Tim Smythe

    Nice column, but two historical, literary nits…

    “Could the iPhone 5S’s new M7 chip be something of a trojan horse, leading the way for Apple’s wearable-tech debut?”

    First, it’s Trojan horse, capitalized, referring to Troy!!

    Second, the analogy is wrong. No one is thinking, “Oh, the M7 is a good thing” and then discovering it’s filled with gremlins and problems–and soldiers inside! :-)

    That analogy would be apt if, in fact, it were later discovered that Apple and NSA conspired to include a special tracking, logging feature that no one knew about. We all think “M7 great!” and then discover the hidden baddies.

    Your article is making a different point–that the chip has great potential to do all sorts of things; very good, very clever things. So, it’s not a “Trojan horse” at all!

    • The Trojan horse analogy is this: it looks innocuous, like just another iPhone but then the surprise is when it becomes an important part of wearable computing, which upends the business models of FitBit and other trackers. Business-wise, this was a very stealthy entrance into the field and could potentially be damaging to the current players. The analogy seems apt.