While everyone is busy talking about either how expensive the iPhone 5c is or the implications of Apple's fingerprint sensor, another one of Apple's iPhone introductions is going somewhat overlooked. Specifically, Apple this past Tuesday introduced the world to the M7 motion co-processor. A companion to the A7, the M7 leverages the iPhone 5s's accelerometer, compass and gyroscope to record all types of motion-related information about a user's activity.
During the keynote presentation, Phil Schiller boasted that the M7 will enable a new generation of health and fitness apps via the introduction of CoreMotion APIs. On top of that, Apple notes that the M7 is constantly on the job, and is therefore aware of when you're walking, running, or driving.
As for the benefits to that, Apple writes:
For example, Maps switches from driving to walking turn-by-turn navigation if, say, you park and continue on foot. Since M7 can tell when you’re in a moving vehicle, iPhone 5s won’t ask you to join Wi-Fi networks you pass by. And if your phone hasn’t moved for a while, like when you’re asleep, M7 reduces network pinging to spare your battery.
But there may be a whole lot more to the M7 processor than Apple is letting on.
According to a report from Mark Gurman of 9to5Mac, Apple has plans to more tightly integrate the M7 processor with its Maps app in a serious way.
Sources say that Apple is testing a tool for its Maps app that, with the M7 chip, could analyze when your car is parked. When you park your car, the iPhone will register the car’s location. Now when you return to the parking lot, your iPhone will be able to help you assist with finding your car since it knows the vehicle’s location.
Besides the car-finding feature, Apple is also working on other mapping features. Apple is said to be planning notable updates to its Maps app in iOS 8, and the company is currently working on implementing both public transit directions and indoor mapping features (which Google already has on iOS). Over the past few months, Apple has acquired several companies that focus on transit, so it should not be too surprising that the company is working on integrating its new data into its Maps app. It is currently unconfirmed if Apple is on target to ship the new Maps with the next major iOS release, but it is the current plan.
As Gurman writes, Apple has indeed made a number of transit-based acquisitions in recent months. Most notably, the company acquired Embark back in late August and HopStop back in July. Apple's Maps app unfortunately lacks any built-in local transit mapping capabilities, so one can only hope that full transit integration is ready to go by the time iOS 8 rolls around, presumably next fall.
As for indoor mapping features, also keep in mind that Apple in March of 2013 acquired a company called Wi-Fi Slam, a startup specializing in indoor location mapping.
Google undoubtedly has a leg up on Apple in the mapping game, but Apple appears to be working furiously to catch up.
In any event, we'll be able to see what the M7 is all about come next Friday when the iPhone 5s first goes on sale. Note that the M7 will not be available for the iPhone 5c.