Two things which really stood out at Apple’s iPhone event was Apple’s foray into health & fitness segment with the new motion co-processor M7 and biometric authentication through a new fingerprint sensor called TouchID in its flagship smartphone iPhone 5s.
As a quick recap, the new motion co-processor dubbed as M7 works alongside A7, and continuously measures motion data from accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope even when the phone is asleep.
However, what makes this interesting is the introduction of new CoreMotion APIs for third party iOS app developers. While the details on these APIs and their capabilities are sparse at the moment, Apple says this can identify user movement and tell apps if the user is stationary, walking or driving among others. It also claimed this feature will enable developers to build a new generation of health and fitness apps.
Nike+ Move: Apple also demoed Nike’s new app Nike+ Move, which will be the first app to make use of the motion processor M7 and these APIs to allow users keep track of user’s activities, track their Fuel points, and also enable them to compete with their friends in Apple’s social gaming network GameCenter.
While there are several health and fitness tracking apps like Endomondo, Myfitnesspal, Runkeeper and Runtastic among others, the problem with these apps has been that they don’t provide accurate tracking and are not smart enough yet to identify user movement i.e. whether I am sitting, running or driving. With the new APIs, we are curious to see if developers are able to build apps which can provide accurate tracking and possibly provide more advanced features.
Also, its worth noting that the competition is heating up in the smart watch space and this is the segment to keep an eye on over the forthcoming year – Samsung, Qualcomm and Sony launched its own respective smartwatches earlier this month and there has been reports that Apple, Google and Microsoft are working on its own respective smart watches. Its therefore possible that these new developments could be a precursor to Apple launching its much rumored smartwatch.
It will be interesting to see if Google and Microsoft have similar announcements in the forthcoming months, since it will be imperative for companies to set up an ecosystem around their smartwatch offerings to attract consumers. Remember that Samsung had introduced several fitness related features like built-in pedometer and health apps like S Health in its Android smartphone Samsung Galaxy S4, while Google somewhat offers activity tracking with Google Now.
We are also curious to see if and how this development affects third party wearable activity tracking devices like Fitbit and Jawbone among others, although Nike has told Engadget that its move app is just a gateway for users to activity apps and more serious activity tracking enthusiasts will still use devices like FuelBand. If players like Apple, Google or Microsoft provide a compelling health & fitness experience out of the box, its possible that consumers may choose that over third party players like Fitbit and Jawbone among others.
New Fingerprint Authentication
iPhone 5S will also feature a Touch ID capacitive fingerprint sensor, which allows users to scan their fingerprints to unlock the phone and authenticate purchases form iTunes store, App Store and iBooks Store among others. Apple claimed this sensor can scan in any orientation, supports multiple fingerprints and is built directly to the home button.
While it currently serves only two use cases right now, we are curious on where Apple goes from here and what other use cases its currently considering for this fingerprint sensor. Remember Motorola had introduced fingerprint sensor with Motorola Atrix, but as far as I remember, the functionality was limited to only unlocking the phone (correct me if I am wrong).
No third party support yet: One thing that has been ruled out by Apple as of now, is providing fingerprint reader authentication option to third party developers, probably because it might lead to privacy concerns among consumers. However, Phil Schiller apparently declined to comment to AllThingsD on whether this might be provided in the future or not.
In a bid to address privacy concerns, Apple also noted that these fingerprints will be stored locally inside the A7 chip on the iPhone 5s and will not be uploaded to Apple’s servers or backed up to iCloud as well.
I however feel Apple could probably provide an opt-in mechanism for third party developers to use this data, wherein consumers have the power to approve which apps get their biometric data and which apps don’t. Why rule off this authentication mechanism if the consumers are comfortable with it? Probably, Apple can provide an option to turn it off entirely for consumers who are not comfortable with it.