On Tuesday, Apple returned to the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, Calif., where the original Macintosh and iMac computers were first unveiled.
Many commentators, ourselves included, were eager to hear about the company's smart watch, its first foray into the increasingly popular wearables market that includes Android Wear, Timex's Ironman ONE GPS+ and numerous fitness tracking technologies. Yet despite Apple's insistence on the watch's potential to change wearables, it wasn't the company's most innovative offering.
No, that distinction belongs to the new M8 motion coprocessor.
According to Apple's website:
"When you’re in motion, the M8 motion coprocessor continuously measures data from the accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, and a new barometer. This offloads work from the A8 chip for improved power efficiency. And now those sensors do even more, measuring your steps, distance, and elevation changes."
Previous iPhone models, as well as other recent smart phones, include an accelerometer, compass and gyroscope in some configuration for use with location tracking. Many default and third party apps have taken advantage of these tools, especially fitness tracking software like MapMyRun, RunKeeper and Nike+.
The inclusion of the new barometer means more tracking capabilities, and therefore more fitness tracking innovation with these apps and others. It also means, as Apple's Senior VP Phil Schiller said during Tuesday's presentation, the iPhone 6 can tell whether you're running or cycling.
Apple's website explains the barometer further:
"The barometer senses air pressure to determine your relative elevation. So as you move, you can keep track of the elevation you’ve gained. It can even measure stairs climbed or hills conquered."
The Verge's Jacob Kastrenakes compares this, along with the Apple Watch, to Android Wear and divulges more good news for Apple:
"Apple includes heart-rate sensors and an accelerometer on its watch, and then borrows GPS and Wi-Fi information from a paired iPhone in order to track your health. It has two separate apps for it too: Activity and Workout. Together, they're supposed to track your activity and encourage you to get moving — but we'll have to wear one to see if it can really pull that off."
But will the new barometer, combined with the Apple Watch and its iPhone connectivity, encourage runners versed in technology and fitness tracking to abandon their Fitbits and Garmins come 2015? As of this writing, 59% say yes in a live poll at The Verge.
The iPhone 6 starts at $199, and the iPhone 6 Plus starts at $299. Preorder begins this Friday, and phones ship on Sept. 19. The Apple Watch starts at $349, and will go on sale in early 2015.