Doing more with iPhone

I watched Steve Jobs keynote at this years Macworld the other day where he announced the iPhone. There are so many good things about this product that you wouldn’t know where to start. It is truly a revolutionary product as Steve Jobs himself puts it and definitely way ahead of current mobile phones. One feature that I really liked was the way iPhones display would automatically change from portrait mode to landscape mode the moment you place the phone in landscape mode. This as Steve pointed out was determined by the accelerometer that iPhone has. Accelerometer is one technology i am quite fascinated about. You can use this technology to sense motion and do a lot of cool things with it. We had created a device where we were using the Accelerometer to know the user feedback by just shaking the device. If they shook the device vertically, the input would be a ‘Yes’, and if they shook it horizontally the input would be a ‘No’ (similar to shaking your head for a Yes/No answer). Though it would be futile to suggest some enhancement to iPhone which already is full with so many features, there is one thing i can’t help but observe.

Accelerometer can sense the motion in any of the three axis (x,y and z). It gives you these values as and when the device is moved. Something similar to a mouse, only that it gives you change in position in only a plane. Now if you can take this input from the accelerometer and feed it to the device(iPhone) as a mouse input, you have got yourself an input device for iPhone without actually attaching anything.

Now look how beautifully this can be used in iPhone. You are holding the iPhone in your (right) hand and are browsing lets say the songs in the iPod mode. You tilt the iPhone slightly by twisting your hand (in clockwise manner). Accelerometer senses the motion, gives an input to the iPhone to scroll up, and your playlist scrolls up. You tilt the iPhone the other way (twist your hand slightly counter clockwise) and the playlist scrolls down automatically. You are scrolling the playlist without actually giving any input to the iPhone (I can hear Steve saying “Isn’t this awesome ??”). Again imagine you are browsing the cover art. A slight tilt to the left and the cover arts starts moving to the left. A sligt tilt to the right and they start moving towards right.

Same use case can be demonstrated while browsing the google maps on the iPhone. Any motion (tilt) in the plane in which iPhone belongs can be taken as an input to pan the map you are viewing. Without having to touch the iPhone. Imagine you are driving in your car and you need to browse/scroll the map to see your current location. Without taking your other hand off the steering wheel, you can scroll the map just by tilting iPhone. Isn’t that amazing?

Though iPhone is a very cool device without any keypad inputs, i think it will affect it when they would want to put some cool games. You can do away without proper keys for dialing phone, browsing and listening to music. But when you are playing a game, it requires a quick response from the game which cannot really be given from a tochpad. Again by using the motion sensor of the iPhone, you can use it to play most of the games. Infact many cooler games which are restricted because of the keypad can be played on iPhone using its motion sensor as an input. One particular game that i like is the Neverball, where you move the ball by tilting the game world. You guide the ball through a path by tilting the game world so that the ball moves due to gravity. With iPhone in your hand you can actually tilt the iPhone and guide the ball. That would be truly amazing.

Infact Amit Singh (Author of the book Mac OS X Internals) has demonstrated this ability to take the motion sensor input back as HID input on his Macbook which has a motion sensor (I believe the reason why MacBook has the motion sensor is that so that it can sense when the MacBook is falling and can safely park the hard drive before it gets the shock when it hits the floor). He also has a quicktime movie where he shows how he has used this to play the Neverball game. Its really awesome. Once you watch the movie you just feel like playing that game on the iPhone.

Lets hope Apple uses the accelerometer in much more cooler way than to just change the screen from portrait mode to landscape and vice versa.

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