The M7 Motion Coprocessor (MoCoPro?) in the iPhone 5s is something of a mystery beast. It’s function is clear – it is an always-on low-power chip that processes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass in your iPhone – but its eventual purpose is still a little unclear. So why don’t we do some speculation?
Right now, Apple is billing the M7 as two things: a motion tracker which will constantly monitor your movement without draining the battery, and which will hand off its data to any app that asks for it when that app is launched. Thus you could track your movements in, say, a FitBit app without the GPS slurping the battery the whole time.
The second official use is to tell the iPhone when you’re moving, and how fast: Network services are less frequent when you’re sleeping; open Wi-Fi networks are ignored if you speed by them whilst driving; that kind of thing.
But I’m more interested in what it could do. The iPhone already records your movements into a private log (Settings>Privacy>Location Services>System Services>Frequent Locations – yes, it’s buried pretty deep), and this is likely where the M7 data will end up. What if you could grant access to this location data the way you can grant access to your contacts or photos?
A photo app could use this data to geotag photos taken with other cameras. Right now you can kind of geotag imported photos using various apps, but these use GPS to make their logs, which means battery drain.
Better still, what if your location data was synced to your Mac along with your photographs, and used to auto-tag any non-iPhone photos you import into Aperture or iPhoto? Got a bunch of great snaps from your SLR, but sick that they don’t show up on your photo maps? Fixed! As long as you have your iPhone in your pocket wherever you go (which of course you do) then your photos will be geotagged.
And what about auto-syncing your iPhone when you get home? For instance, PhotoSync app currently offers to auto-upload my new iPhone photos to my Mac or my Dropbox when I arrive home. I can’t get it to work, and I have a feeling it’s because I live in the old town: The narrow streets mean I spend a lot of time within my “home” circle, likely triggering the geofences when I’m still shopping at the market, and even if it does get triggered in the right spot, PhotoSync has likely timed out before I reach my Wi-Fi network at the top of five flights of stairs.
What if the M7 could tell an app that I really have arrived home, and that it should now back up my latest pictures, turn on my lights, and pour me a cold beer (that last one might be tricky I admit). This combines nicely with the new multitasking features in iOS7 which let apps update themselves in the background.
I have a feeling that the M7 is so fundamental to the workings of future iOS (and iWatch) devices that the whole fitness app thing is just a cover
This combination of almost power-free location data and background services makes for some powerful options. There are already apps which trigger alerts based on your location, but these can now be used without battery penalty, and with greater accuracy. We can also look forward to indoor maps (for mall-rats and trade-show attendees alike), and maybe even a setting to auto-mute your iPhone when you’re in a theater. Or a maps app that already knows where you are when you launch it, letting you quick-check your location instead of waiting – with the screen burning power – for it to find you.
You see? The possibilities are many, and mentioning just fitness apps is likely Apple’s way of making a hardware component seems useful: Usually Apple doesn’t add a hardware feature without a matching app (the phone unlock for the fingerprint sensor is a great example of this), but this time I have a feeling that the M7 is so fundamental to the workings of future iOS (and iWatch) devices that the whole fitness app thing is just a cover for the real truth.