A lot of people started asking me various questions regarding what a gyroscope is after the Apple’s WWDC 2010 Keynote was done. So I thought I’ll try to collate my answers into this blog post.
What is a Gyroscope?
In layman’s term, it measures the position, angle, orientation of your iPhone 4. Not only that, it’s also able to measure the motion and change of the orientation of your iPhone 4.
But if you want to know the technical explanation for it, here’s the description from Merriam-Webster:
a wheel or disk mounted to spin rapidly about an axis and also free to rotate about one or both of two axes perpendicular to each other and to the axis of spin so that a rotation of one of the two mutually perpendicular axes results from application of torque to the other when the wheel is spinning and so that the entire apparatus offers considerable opposition depending on the angular momentum to any torque that would change the direction of the axis of spin.
Find out more technical details about Gyroscopes from Wikipedia.
But my iPhone already has an Accelerometer and a Digital Compass. Why do I need a Gyroscope too?
Well, an Accelerometer is great for measuring acceleration, detecting and measuring vibrations, or for measuring acceleration due to gravity (inclination). However, that’s all it does. A Digital Compass only shows your bearings of which direction you’re facing based on North/East/South/West.
With the addition of a Gyroscope, it will add a 3rd factor into the equation. Now you have 3 sensors that do the following:
- Measure acceleration
- Measure your bearings
- Measure orientation of your iPhone 4 device
So why does it matter?
Developers have been guessing a lot of things based on a combination of both Accelerometer and Digital Compass to determine a various positioning and orientation, making up of the lack of orientation measurement data. Now with this new sensor coming to your iPhone 4, you’ll get a more accurate and sensitive experience with existing games (of course with some change in the code) that uses orientation of the iPhone as a key feature.
Everyone knows Labyrinth and Labyrinth 2. The game with the steel ball and you tilt your phone to move the steel ball. Now with a gyroscope, this game will be able to advance to an even more difficult and sensitive game which allows better experience and control over the game.
But this is just scrapping the possibilities of what can be possible on the iPhone now.
What apps might be possible for iPhone 4 with a gyroscope?
This is from the keynote where Steve Jobs was demonstrating the Gyroscope with a Jenga game. However, as mentioned above, it just scrapes the possibilities.
Here are some possibilities right off my head:
- More accurate and better/new types of games
- Anti-shake stabilizer camera feature (or anything that requires a stabilizer)
- A Wii-like controller
- Improved navigation calculations (mesure motion from gyroscope)
- Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
- Medical apps that require precision calculations
The list goes on.
As a consumer, wait and enjoy the flurry of new apps, or improved existing apps. As a developer, it opens up a whole new space of possibilities to compete for great apps.
I hope that helps you understand what a Gyroscope is. If you want me to write more about the 3-axis pitch, yaw, and roll, leave me a comment. If you come up with more crazy possibilities of making use of the gyroscope, tell me and I’ll add it to the list.