Sensors on Phones

Let’s take a look at the sensors typically available on smart phones and tablets, and some of the more obvious uses. Hopefully this will help fuel our imaginations to come up with new and innovative app ideas.

The Sensors on your Phones

Older and/or cheaper phones may be missing some of these sensors.

  • Touch screen
  • Microphones
  • Speakers
  • Cameras and flash
  • GSM for phone calls and SMS, and 3G/LTE mobile data
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • NFC, or near Field Communication - Used when you use your phone to pay for a purchase, or when you scan headphones to initiate pairing; can also be used to read and write NFC tags, and respond when a tag is scanned.
  • GPS (location, speed, altitude)
  • Compass
  • Ambient Light sensor
  • Accelerometers
  • Gyroscopes
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Power and Volume buttons
  • Clock
  • Barometer

And the USB port can be used to connect to other devices.

Combining Sensors

Sensors can be combined in new and innovative ways to create new and unanticipated apps. Here’s a short sampling:

  • Flash = torch
  • Flash + camera = pulse/heart rate detection
  • Microphone = what music am I listening to?
  • Accelerometers = Step counters, spirit levels
  • Accelerometers plus Speed (GPS and/or other location) = Activity detection: walking, running, cycling, driving
  • GPS over time = fitness tracking apps like Strava, location history
  • GPS + map DB = Directions and Navigation. Done in bulk, with location history = traffic congestion warnings.
  • Location plus Barometer = Pressure net
  • Gyroscopes = app to reduce urges for unhealthy food by tilting pictures of healthy food towards you, and unhealthy food away.
  • Accelerometers and gyroscopes plus screen = Virtual Reality, e.g. Google Cardboard
  • Camera + accelerometers and gyroscopes = Augmented Reality