Are the iPhone 5s Sensors Improperly Calibrated?

By Tony Rizzo October 07, 2013

If the Apple support forums are a reliable source of information, the answer to our headline question would need to be a definite “Yes.” Apparently, there are sensor calibration issues. Furthermore, following the forum reports that have emerged, both Gizmodo and VentureBeat ran a series of tests on the iPhone 5S relative to the iPhone 5 to check how the two stack up against each other, and the results were not encouraging.

Gizmodo conducted various tests on the iPhone 5S inclinometer (which provides a measure for ensuring something is level), the gyroscope, the compass and the accelerometer. VentureBeat conducted its own similar tests. Neither set of tests was particularly scientific in nature, but both sets of tests showed discrepancies - enough so to strongly suggest that there may, in fact, be something wrong here.

The simplest way to check on these things is to run a leveling app (such as iHandy Level and related tools) and test it out against an actual level or against other devices or against surfaces that are known to be level. Compass points can be measured against other devices (such as your old iPhone).

It is interesting to note that these issues appear to run across a number of sensors, not merely one or another. It is currently impossible to say if these issues are limited to some specific batch of devices or if the issue is widespread across numerous millions of devices. Were there errors in the calibration equipment where the iPhones were tested? Was it industrial sabotage (there is no reason to think not)? Or is the issue, perhaps, related to the M7 Motion co-processor and its handling of incoming data? Is the M7 distorting the incoming data?


image via gizmodo

We don't know, and there is no point in speculating about it. For all we know, this is simply a repeat of the old iPhone 4 antenna episode - that is, much ado about, ultimately, nothing. Apple has not, as far as we know as we write on the afternoon of Monday October 7, 2013, made any public statements about it.

If the sensors are malfunctioning, how could they all be malfunctioning? If they are malfunctioning, are they all malfunctioning in exactly the same ways? It is hard to believe that Apple Q&A wouldn't have spotted any such issues. And it is impossible to believe that Apple would knowingly have let any such devices ship.

The issue, so far, appears to be entirely associated with the iPhone 5s. We have not heard of similar issues occurring with the iPhone 5c, though we confess we have not had the time available to track down if the sensors in the devices are the same or not, or sourced from the same or different suppliers.

What we do know is that if the problem is real and if the problem is pervasive across millions of iPhone 5s devices, it could prove a nasty problem. Hypothetically, if Apple engineers determine that problems are uniform exactly the same across all devices it may be possible to fix the problems through a software adjustment or firmware update. Beyond that, we don't know how Apple might resolve such an issue.

Sensor issues can affect mapping software, any apps that utilize these sensors in ways that we no longer necessarily even think about (when was the last time you thought to consider if your compass was accurate or if your app that tracks your speed was accurate?). Finally, there are numerous games that rely on accurate sensor readings, such as apps that allow you to twist and turn your iPhone while moving some object on the screen or if you happen to be racing a car. And so on. Or perhaps that star in the sky that your favorite astronomy app running on your new iPhone 5s recently thought was Sirius or Jupiter is something else entirely.

Finally, it is possible that in the end it is all yet again a lot of…nothing and there is nothing really wrong. We'll need for Apple itself to weigh in on the issue. When the iPhone 4 antenna issue first popped up, Steve Jobs himself had to hold a press conference on the issue. We'll see if current Apple CEO Tim Cook finds himself in the same boat.

It is worth visiting both the original Gizmodo and VentureBeat articles and to scope out the tests they conducted, especially if you are concerned for practical reasons about using the mobile apps that are likely to be affected by these issues - if they are indeed real issues.

We ourselves are thinking that we'll wait just a bit longer at this point before we head to AT&T to pick up our Champaign-colored iPhone 5s toys.




Edited by Ryan Sartor

TechZone360 Senior Editor

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