The wizard behind the curtain for the iPhone 5s: Apple’s M7 motion co-processor

“Apple has a new trick up its sleeve with the iPhone 5s that was talked about on stage during its recent reveal event, but the impact of which won’t be felt until much later when it gets fully taken advantage of by third-party developers,” Darrell Etherington writes for TechCrunch.

“Specifically, I’m talking about the M7 motion coprocessor that now takes the load of tracking motion and distance covered, requiring much less battery draw and enabling some neat new tricks with tremendous felt impact,” Etherington writes. “The M7 is already a boon to the iPhone 5s without any third-party app support – it makes the iPhone more intelligent in terms of when to activate certain features and when to slow things down and conserve battery life by checking less frequently for open networks, for instance. Because it’s already more efficient than using the main A-series processor for these tasks, and because changing these behaviours can themselves also save battery, the M7 already stretches the built-in battery to its upper limits.”

Etherington writes, “So in the future, we’ll likely see gesture-controlled games (imagine the iPhone acting as a gesture controller for a title broadcast to Apple TV via AirPlay), as well as all kinds of fitness trackers and apps that can use CoreMotion to limit battery drain or change functionality entirely depending on where and when they’re being used, as detected by motion cues. An app might offer very different modes while in transit, for instance, vs. when it’s stationary in the home.”

Read more in the full article here.

Related articles:
How Apple’s unmatched A7 64-bit processor gives iOS plenty of headroom for the future and Apple a distinct competitive advantage – September 16, 2013
Apple seen seeding future wearable products in iPhone 5s with M7 motion co-processor – September 16, 2013
Fitness gadget makers should be very afraid: Apple’s M7 chip, built into iPhone 5s, paves the way for iWatch – September 13, 2013


  1. Either this thing isn’t all that, or this creates some serious fragmentation in the iOS ecosystem, seeing as how Apple is still selling iPhone 4s for the foreseeable future, and a whole new generation of iPhone 5c without it. There’s a big watershed moment in the next year or so, if the M7 chip really makes a noticeable difference or is required for new functionality. It could either hurt Apple’s reputation for backward compatibility or turn out to be so useful that no one would settle for a phone without it going forward (as it would make the iPhone 5c obsolete within one year of purchase).

    If the M7 truly is special, you’d have to question buying an iPhone 5c now, unless you wanted to replace it in one year (when its value will have fallen substantially).

    1. Did you just crawl out of a cave? iPhone 5s is a premium phone with premium features. Not for everybody, but if you want the latest and greatest, then you get the 5s. If not the 5c or stick with your 4 and 4s. Dang dude, wake the flip up!

        1. Grrrilla,
          The M7 is that special and yes, it creates differentiation but not fragmentation. When the 4s was introduced we saw Siri only on the top phone. Apple continued to sell 3gs and 4 models but only the 4s could use Siri’s advanced search features. Older iPhones have the motion sensors but only the 5s has the ability to continuously track the data while the phone is in a low power mode. If I write a fitness app for iPhone and the user has the older models, they would have to keep my app running all the time to get the same result as the 5s with the M7 chip. The app would work, but it would eat the battery life. On Android an app purchaser has to worry about whether the app will run at all on their phone, not whether it is optimized for their phone. All electronics either improve their feature sets with each revision or they die. Apple will inevitably add new features with each revision so as to give us all a sense of wonder and delight. If that is fragmentation then so be it.

          As for trondude, no need to act like an elitist. 😉

    2. And as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the same is true for 64-bit processing, and makes the argument against the 5c even more compelling.

      If something amazing is in the iPhone’s future, it would appear that it is still a year away.

      In the meantime, I look forward to seeing if developers do anything with that new hardware – but have to wonder how many will eschew coding for it, since that will reduce their potential app market by all the iPhone 4, 4s, 5, and 5c owners.

      1. Then again, perhaps the 5s will be such a compelling success that forward-looking developers will code for it to be first in line when the 5, 5 c and older models are considered obsolete, no longer supported, and need to be replaced.

      2. I guess you haven’t been paying attention to Apple’s mode over the past dozen years or so — or you don’t care and are just baiting people.

        The functions within the M7 are just more energy efficient and precise. The functions are already available in the 4S and 5 and will be available in the 5C. If you want the “better” version of that same functionality then you need to get the 5S.

        You can go way back to the Mac/512K Mac/Mac Plus/Mac II days to see that this has happened with Apple. Apple used the SANE routines developed by Apple’s own mathematics team. When a developer’s software called a SANE routine that’s all he cared about. It was Apple’s job to know if the 68881 or 68882 was there or not. If it was there the function was run in hardware and was very fast. If it was not there Apple’s software handled it in software on the 68000/68020/68030. Just because Motorola came out with the 68881 and 68882 coprocessors did not mean that the systems without them were suddenly obsolete.

        The same goes for the A7 chip’s 64-bit nature. The coming version of iOS 7 runs on both 32-bit and 64-bit chips. The 64-bit chip will run 32-bit software. This is NOT the Windows world where 32-bit and 64-bit have huge problems coexisting — and still sometimes have problems in Windows 7 & 8 (even with Microsoft’s own applications!)

        Eventually, Apple will make iOS 64-bit only. However, that won’t happen until a year or so *after* Apple stops selling 32-bit iPhones which might happen as early as 2014 but likely won’t happen until 2015 or latr. So I don’t expect a 64-bit only iOS until 2015 at the earliest and likely not until 2016 — if ever. Apple has a track record of supporting the most recent three (and sometimes four) generations of iPhones. Anyone predicting that will immediately change is making statements without any factual basis.

    3. It isn’t that the M7 enables new functionality. It takes functions that were dealt with by the A4, A5, and A6 general processing chips and offloads them to the M7 that is dedicated for doing these motion calculations. The M7 does the same things that the phone already could do, but does so much more efficiently. GPS with compass could eat through a 4S battery in a few hours using navigation on long trips because the general purpose A5 in it used a lot of power to make the calculations. With the M7, it is only designed to handle these calculations which makes it much more efficient at doing so. Near normal battery life while maintaining full motion functionality is the benefit.

      Another example. My Mac using Final Cut to export to h.264 encoded video uses a lot of the computer’s resources and gets very hot (loss of energy) because it’s general purpose. Jack of all trades, master of none. Same is true of any AMD/INTEL/ARM general processor. There is a nice little add on external coprocessor USB stick called the Turbo h.264 that I can plug in now. My computer runs cooler and encodes h.264 video at twice the speed. All because of a chip for a dedicated task.

    4. Not everyone uses their iPhone the same way. Many tasks I fine essential and can’t live without aren’t even used by my sister, and the same is true the other way around.

      While I can’t rap around my head why anyone would buy an iPhone 4s when the other two are available at just a slightly higher price. (when taking total cost of contract ownership into account) But Apple will sell a ton of 4s’ to people who are not like me. Some will never care, others will upgrade in the future once they see the light.

      Bottom line, not everyone wants or needs an M7 chip.

      1. iPhone 4s is now free under contract.
        Essentially you pay for it – but no upfront cost.
        Sign for a two year contract and start using.

        iPhone 5c, starts at 99 bucks upfront, sign the two year contract and start using… or pay for a unlocked phone 649.00 for a 32 Gb A6 chip. This is a 100 dollar price drop from the iPhone 5 last year but you get 75 dollars worth in Apple apps. The 5c simply replaces iPhone 5.

        or buy the same configuration for 749.00 and you get the best device at exactly last years price.

    5. M7 is rather cool in deed.

      I can not see it fragment the product line anymore then 64 bit disrupting the production of newer applications that want to use that architecture to its benefit.

      Apple makes a bold move here both on the A7 and M7 with iPhone 5s. At the same time the pricing of the 5c and 5s regarding the same memory storage – the 5c is not a bargain at all. People need to experience the 5s in hand. And the convenience of finger recognition. For merely a 100 bucks more you can get an unlocked 32 Gb iPhone 5s… so its well worth it in comparison. Why Apple did this, I guess to create a demand for the new phone. The 5c is not much better then the previous iPhone5. And its A6 chip and polycarbonate back only reduces the cost so Apple can provide 5 free, Apple only apps.

      Yes, iPhone 4s is still available – it didn’t sell as many as iPhone 5 I figure. Its the free phone now with a 2 year contract. No iPhone 5 its been replaced by 5c. Why did Apple do this? To create a demand for iPhone 5s.

      Lastly, I hope one day portions of Siri are embedded on silicon like M7. So some of Siri can be used off line.

    6. If Apple starts worrying too much about “backward compatibility” all innovation will stop. That constant worry and bending over for this backward need is what sank Microsloth.

    1. i think,

      64 bit phones are a good innovation
      M7 is a great innovation
      A7 is a powerful innovation

      Apple continues to engineer efficiency and power under the hood. Screen size matters to some. Elegance and refreshed appearance matters to others. However, most want a reliable, secure, simple, yet powerful and efficient device.

      Apple has improved the OS… familiar yet new – a weak sale point there. However iOS7 does offer real benefits to the user. Try and see. Most is somewhat from the Jail Break community and Android inspired maybe. Yet Apple brings it home.

      Apple has improved the processor with a A7 and taken some of the load away from the A7 onto a separate M7 chip.

      Apple has improved the appearance on both a less expensive phone and the higher end.

      Small but steady steps – wait to see the sales – not the stock market reaction.

    1. GPS is one of the major power suckers in an iPhone. I guess the wearable might have some sort of kinematic generator built in to keep the battery charged, but the power has to come from somewhere.

        1. So the iWatch is only fully functional when paired with an iPhone 5s (no M7 in the iP 5c)? What would be the point? And how does this address Bob’s point about pairing an iPad to be able to avoid the need for a cellular-vapable iPad?

  2. One big problem with mirroring on AppleTV has been the lag time. With the phone already knowing its movements before the processor this could help with lag. Using the ATV’s memory and processor: the M7 chip could send the position information first, then the A7 could send the latest if / than task, then the ATV would make the choice of what to display. The iPhone would be doing all the heavy work, the ATV would do the last nanosecond task. This could reduce lag time to unnoticeable. The ATV could become a real contender with the Xbox, PS, and Wii.

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