Why The iPhone 3GS Compass Is Important

compassUpdate 2: And people thought I was nuts when I said the compass is important. Apple also seems to have not realized as they are just now working on more video hooks in the current 3.1 betas. Also, check out this video from AcrossAir. Mind blowing…

Update: Here is a much more in-depth posting on the importance of the compass:

The New iPhone Is a Pointing Device For The Real World: The Ground Will Speak.

One of the sleeper hits of the WWDC was the announcement of a magnetometer in the iPhone 3GS. I’m not sure this is getting the attention it deserves as I believe it is truly groundbreaking and will open an entirely new paradigm in mobile computing.

Well, I guess one guy understood the importance (from Gizmodo):

There’s also a built-in digital compass. One guy goes crazy. “A cool compass fan out there,” says Phil.

So what’s so special about a compass? Two hints:

  1. Sky Map for Android (I guess they changed the name from Star Map after Searchology)
  2. Wikitude AR Travel Guide (Top-50 finalist in Google’s Android Developer Challenge)

What I’m getting at is Augmented Reality. This has been a dream of mine for the past 10 years or so, first envisioning the idea as a set of glasses you could wear to annotate and read info on various locations. Later I dreamt of wackier and wackier ideas, but always knew I would never be able to pull it off – the technologies weren’t ready or weren’t cheap enough to go mainstream. Until now.

I’m not going to say much more on this issue… something’s brewing in the lab!

11 thoughts on “Why The iPhone 3GS Compass Is Important”

  1. A compass that doesn't work when your battery drains! Yee-haa! Sorry… when you actually need a compass you might not have the ability to charge your PHONE.

    I think that a compass on the iPhone has a lot of neeto factor for selling iphones, but little practical value.

    Augmented reality? Nah. Not all that interested.

  2. when i heard that, i wanted to know — how is the 3GS compass different from the compass apps already in the iphone ? is it somehow more accurate ? will maps be able to use it to determine which direction you’re facing ? will photos get geotagged with the compass info (esp the which direction are you facing part) ? etc. otherwise, it’s just an app that changed from download-me to built-in.

    1. The new compass uses hardware in the phone – a magnetometer – to give you true, real-time precision. The current apps in the store use some kind of hack where you have to rotate your phone to align an image of the sun… or even use your fingers ;).

      I doubt that photos will have directional info embedded, I'm not very familiar with the EXIF spec so I could be wrong. The Map application will display the direction you are facing (map view) and will display the street view in real time as you turn around. It is this second part that I'm really excited about.

      1. I'm not sure about the streetview when you turn – if you're not at the place, it's ridiculous to think that the initial direction is important (i.e. I want that shopfront I was looking for to appear right in front of me, even if it is on the north side of the street and I'm currently turned south-west); and if I AM at a location, then I will hardly need the streetview.
        So, streetview and the map seems to make only partial sense to me.

        What would make (enormous) sense to me was that if I turned on GPS on google-maps or google-earth, the maps/earth view should be aligned properly (i.e. that road turning left in front of me, should be the one turning left above my GPS position on the screen – that way the compass becomes an integrated orientation aid when using the GPS, no trying to find out which direction I'm facing / where certain roads are, …).

        Similarly, unlike streetview, in google-earth, if I'm hiking / driving across the country-side, then it makes sense showing me what is further ahead from where I am. Imagine being in the mountains (simple tourism) and google-earth could show you which mountain you're seeing a couple of miles away from your position, and you see the 'skyline' of the mountains to compare it with. Again – an orientation aid.

        (Note: While I may not need that myself that much, think about lots of people who are a slightly lacking in the map-reading / map-understanding department. For those it will be a great tool because they will no longer have to worry about whether they hold the map the correct way – the compass will allow the phone to rotate the map just the right way.

  3. Do most/all gps nav devices have a magnetometer in them to get direction? I know you can get it from GPS data if you are moving but i'm sure that would be impossible if you just heading out.

    1. I would say yes, most devices have a magnetometer. But most of the devices are navigational (Tom Tom, Garmin), and do not work so well in the palm of your hand… and definitely do not allow you to view what is front of you via camera.

      As for mobile phones, I know that the G1 has a magnetometer, the Pre, I'm pretty sure, does not. That first link in my post above shows what is possible with a magnetometer on the G1, pretty damn impressive.

  4. The compass is a device that indeed will set some creative minds to work. Just wait and you will be amazed. There already is an app that shows houses for sale overlayed on maps, updating as you move the iPhone around. Or people with other iPhones as you scan across the crowd. Also walking navigation software would be great. Imagine the iPhone telling you, "No the other way, dork!, That's better, now continue walking five blocks"
    Don't think of the compass as a compass, that's just one tiny application of the device, there is so much more to it.

  5. iPhone. 3GS will have a faster processor and probably more RAM. 3GS has a better battery. Using 3G will give you the same amount of battery life, because the faster speeds use up more power. But using the phone over EDGE or Wi-Fi will give you more battery life. 3GS has a 3MP camera with auto focus and white balance or w/e and will be able to record video up to 30 frames per second. The iPhone 3G hardware is capable of supporting video, but the functionality is only accessible through "jail broken" third-party hacks. If you just bought your iphone you might be able to return it for a refund. Otherwise u would have to pay over 199 for iphone 3gs because you haven't kept your contract for 2yrs.

    iphone app developers melbourne

  6. The compass is a gadget that in reality will set some imaginative personalities to work. Simply hold up and you will be flabbergasted. There as of now is an application that shows houses available to be purchased overlayed on maps, refreshing as you move the iPhone around. Or, then again individuals with different iPhones as you output over the group. Additionally strolling route programming would be extraordinary. Envision the iPhone letting you know, "No the other way, dork!, That's better, now keep strolling five pieces" Don't think about the compass as a compass, that is only one modest use of the gadget, there is quite a lot more to it.

  7. when i heard that, i wanted to know — how is the 3GS compass different from the compass apps already in the iphone ? is it somehow more accurate ? will maps be able to use it to determine which direction you're facing ? will photos get geotagged with the compass info (esp the which direction are you facing part) ? etc. otherwise, it's just an app that changed from download-me to built-in.

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