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A magnetometer in the new iPhone, top navigation

Yesterday, Apple released the new beta of iPhone OS 3.0 and as usual, within a few hours of the developers, new details and functions discovered within the code leaked. This time the discovery does not concern a secondary menu or an accessory function, but a new hardware feature that is presumed to be directly integrated into the new iPhone arriving by the summer. We are referring to the magnetometer, in fact a real digital compass that performs the same functions as a traditional compass only with greater precision, while offering an additional series of information. Of this new developer discovery, the TBGR website has published some images of which we reproduce a snapshot in this article.

Within some debug menus reserved for programmers, some items have been identified such as Log Compass and Show In Compass which refer, with few doubts, to the compass functions, absent in the iPhones produced to date. Integrated in a more digital fully correct device refer to this new function as a magnetometer.

Its essential function is to tell the device in which direction it is pointing, which is very useful for real road navigation. Only in this way is it possible, for example, to orient the map in the same direction in which we are looking. Just the lack of a magnetometer has made, up to now, very difficult to develop a "turn by turn" navigator for iPhone and also create "location based" applications that could, for example, indicate on the map the side of a road where it is located a certain building or a street depending on the orientation of the device. Normally the less sophisticated GPS, those without a magnetometer, 'understand' the orientation when a vehicle starts moving, processing information from satellites, but for an object like iPhone that is often used when stationary or walking, this process either not possible or slow.

Equipped with an iPhone magnetometer, to begin with, instead of the traditional circle placeholder or the red dot that indicates the user's position on a map you could have an arrow whose tip always points in the direction in which iPhone is pointing and consequently, in the direction in which the user is facing. In the same way, when on foot it was necessary to find a road or a route, from the first map and thanks to the magnetometer, the arrow would already indicate the direction in which we are going, also calculating the route and the route would benefit from this in order to offer indications tailored. Google, for example, could integrate the magnetometer information to improve the operation not only of Maps but also of Street View by 'turning' the photographic vision towards the position in which we look and perhaps integrating it with tourist indications or other types of information (a shop , for example, or a restaurant). With ad hoc software for navigation or for tourist information, the magnetometer can indicate to the iPhone and the program which building or corner of a square we are looking at, displaying and offering precise information.

The functions obviously go even further and can push developers to create applications of all types for navigating or positioning a terrestrial, marine and even astral point; for example with the magnetometer you could imagine pleasure navigation applications or study of the stars. But the integration with the Web, GPS and ease of use of the iPhone the only limit will be the creativity of those who do programming.

As with all the discoveries of the developers unearthed within the beta code, it is also difficult for the magnetometer to determine if and when Cupertino decides to make it available to developers and users. But on the occasion of the presentation of the iPhone OS, Apple announced that assisted navigation will be possible with the incoming operating system, including turn-by-turn indications and the magnetometer is a very useful component for this purpose so that it is very likely that it will arrive with the new version of iPhone. Equally likely that only a new version of the phone will benefit from it because the one currently on the market is not equipped with a magnetometer.