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19th-Century Tech Makes a Smarter iPhone

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Yaw, meet pitch and roll


Rarely has 19th-century technology stirred an audience of 21st-century technophiles as it did last week when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs revealed that the next-generation iPhone will pack a gyroscope. But will this new sensor be, in Jobs's words, "just perfect for gaming"?

The GPS, compass and accelerometer crammed into today's smartphones pinpoint the phone's location almost anywhere on Earth, establish its orientation relative to magnetic north, and sense its motion up and down, side to side and forwards and backwards. But that's still not enough position and orientation information to sate the appetite of ambitious phone app developers.

"The accelerometer knows in which direction the phone has moved in three dimensions--but it does not know how the phone has rotated around its own axis," says Nick Black, co-founder of San Francisco-based location-aware mapping apps maker Cloudmade. "And the compass knows which way the device is pointing--but only along one plane. It can't tell if the device is pointing upwards or downwards," he adds.

From New Scientist
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