Friday, October 4, 2013

iPhone 5S sensors not working and malfunctioning

Since its release a few weeks ago, several problems have popped up, mostly concerning security bugs. Now, a potentially more practically serious issue has been revealed which is that test results unambiguously show that the sensors (compass, gyroscope and accelerometer) in the iPhone 5S consistently provide incorrect values.

best iphone 5S sensors trouble problem compass gyro accelerometer
Since the iPhone 5S was released, Apple has given its sensors a whole lot of attention, in particular of course the controversial Touch ID fingerprint sensor but also the hyped incorporated dedicated computing units for the rest of the sensors to improve user experience in the M7 processor. Unfortunately, a recent test conducted by GIZMODO shows embarrassing poor readings and accuracy of the compass, gyroscope and accelerometer in iPhone 5S. The findings also very much agree with the large number of users in various discussion forums discussing sensor problems.

For the test, GIZMODO compared 2 iPhone 5S devices against an iPhone 5 (both running iOS 7) and real-world measuring tools. The test results show that the internal iPhone 5S inclinometers were off by 3 degrees, and the compass being up to 10 degrees off. The gyroscope similarly is consistently off by 3 degrees as well. Finally, reading from the accelerometer also differed significantly between the tested iPhone 5S devices and the iPhone 5, sometimes by as much as 1025%!

The discrepancies may be caused by a software issue. However, GIZMODO argues that since the problem appears to be wide spread and different users are experiencing different errors, the problem could be much worse and related to the hardware, or at least the firmware's calibration data within each sensor. If this is the case, then Apple will have real difficulties fixing the faulty sensors through software updates, unless they provide a dedicated tool for users to re-calibrate the sensors by themselves. This is certainly not ideal and a device should work according to specifications which the iPhone 5S, for the case of the sensors, does not.

Furthermore, users have also reported that even when Apple has agreed to switch their iPhone 5S for a new one, the new phones also possess similar problems, indicating that this is not some isolated cases only affecting a tiny fraction of the devices sold.

In any case, if this is a hardware problem, then Apple certainly will fix it for newer devices fabricated. The problem is that Apple very seldom communicates, which means that there could be millions of users who are sitting with iPhone 5S devices not even knowing that their sensor readings are completely incorrect and inconsistent. Therefore, it is argued that it will be very important to spread the information as much as possible, since Apple would likely want to keep it quiet.

The table below summarizes the errors found between the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5.

Sensor testDeviation
Level3 degrees
Gyroscope-3 degrees
Compass10 degrees
Accelerometer1025% along Y direction

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