The just-released Android 2.3 Gingerbread update wasn't the big update many people were hoping for. Underneath the hood, though, the big news is support for new sensors that may give future Android devices remarkable powers.
The most remarkable thing about smartphones isn't really their Wi-Fi and Internet capabilities, or ability to run apps. Instead, it's their built-in sensors. A high-end smartphone like the Droid X, for example, includes a proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, 3-axis accelerometer, and magnetomer, in addition to its GPS and Wi-Fi.
That's why weird and remarkable apps can be written for Android phones such as Pothole Agent, which uses a phone's magnetometer and accelerometer, in concert with GPS to detect potholes, determine their location as you drive, and save the locations to a file that can be mailed to a local Department of Public Works where no doubt, the information will be ignored. Still, its gives you some idea of what sensors can do.
What does this have to do with Gingerbread? Plenty. As fellow Computerworld blogger JR Raphael points out in "Android Gingerbread: The complete FAQ," Gingerbread includes support for a host of new sensors, including gyroscopes, barometers, and gravity sensors.
Android 2.3 adds API support for several new sensor types, including gyroscope, rotation vector, linear acceleration, gravity, and barometer sensors. Applications can use the new sensors in combination with any other sensors available on the device, to track three-dimensional device motion and orientation change with high precision and accuracy.
Game developers are certainly licking their chops at this. As the site notes:
For example, a game application could use readings from a gyroscope and accelerometer on the device to recognize complex user gestures and motions, such as tilt, spin, thrust, and slice.
But what can be done with a gravity sensor? A barometer sensor? The sky is the limit. Expect future smartphones and tablets to built using these sensors, and wait for app developers to unleash their creativity.