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The 10 most likely sensors in a 10-sensor Apple smartwatch

Jon Phillips | June 24, 2014
Once you begin counting up the sensors, it's actually quite easy to get to 10. But you can forget about a blood-glucose sensor outright.

freescale accelerometer

Ten sensors sure sounds like a lot of hardware to stuff into a smartwatch. Yet this is just the baseline sensor count that's purported for Apple's yet-to-be-announced iWatch. The Wall Street Journal says Apple's mythical smartwatch will actually have more than 10 sensors, leading me and other tech pundits to ask, How is Apple going to get past that magic number 10?

Once we begin looking at the current wearable hardware landscape, we see that 10 or more sensors might sound like an indulgence, but none of the sensors Apple might include is particularly esoteric. An expert tells me that a blood-glucose monitor is off the table (more about that below), but a suite of much more pedestrian sensors are available today, and could appear in an Apple smartwatch--should Apple deign to release one.

The 5 most likely sensor suspects

To get a better read on Apple's alleged plans, I turned to Hamid Farzaneh. He's the CEO of Sensoplex, a Silicon Valley company that designs and supplies sensor modules for the emerging wearables industry. I asked Farzaneh to speculate on the most likely sensor candidates for Apple's iWatch based on what we learned in the Wall Street Journal report. What Farzaneh shared with me didn't include any bombshells.

Farzaneh rates five familiar sensors as "highly probable," if we're to take the Journal report at face value. (The following picks are Farzaneh's, while the explanations are mine.)

toddham iwatch run
IMAGE: TODD HAMILTON. Todd Hamilton has created one of the more beautiful concept models of what a fitness-focused iWatch might look like.

1. Accelerometer: Accelerometers are table stakes in the wearables game. They measure body movement to track your steps and sleep patterns. 

2. Gyroscope: Another no-brainer. Gyroscopes measure rotation for a variety of purposes. They feed data into exercise-tracking algorithms, and can sense when you turn your wrist to look at your watchface, thus waking up your display.

3. Magnetometer: This is a compass by any other name. It can be used for improved accuracy in motion tracking.

4. Barometric pressure sensor. This isn't necessarily about supplying the user with weather data. No, the barometer can measure changes in altitude, which is relevant to any runner or cyclist who climbs hills.

5. Ambient temperature sensor. Another relatively simple sensor that could be used in algorithms that report bio-data. For example, ambient temperature could be compared to skin temperature in the service of determining exertion levels.

Sensor suspects 6 through 10

So those are the obvious sensors. Farzaneh rates the following sensors as simply "probable," and again, the explanations are mine:

 

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