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Configuring mobile device sensors to enhance performance

Posted: 23 Mar 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:sensors? Android? Wi-Fi? Bluetooth?

The smartphones and tablets that are in the market today are collections of as well as communications devices. However, any developer who regularly uses sensors soon notices that the Android platform is not optimized for real-time sensor data acquisition. The challenge in developing an Android application is to effectively combine and use data from a variety of sensors to infer higher-level information about device users and their environment.

It is surprising how many physiological senses a mobile device can mimic. The camera, the most widely used sensor on a phone, allows a device to "see" the outside world, while the microphone lets the device "hear." Many devices have multiple cameras and microphones for better spatial resolution.

Other enablers of device vision include light and proximity sensors; facilitating the device's ability to hear are cell tower, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS wireless sensors.

Advanced mobile devices have even more sensors:

???The magnetometer allows a sense of direction, nominally pointing toward magnetic north.
???The accelerometer and gyroscope provide a sense of balance.
???The pressure and temperature sensors, as well as the touchscreen, build on the sense of touch.

The increased diversity of motion sensors on smartphones encourages developers to go beyond games or augmented-reality apps. For example, pressure sensors enable a quicker GPS fix [1], while magnetometers assist in cell-tower handoff determination [2].

Though Android provides a framework for accessing raw data from such sensors at the application level, the existing fragmentation in sensor subsystems and the lack of reliable high-level information make it difficult to create sophisticated sensor applications. What's more, the differences in sensor availability, capabilities and specifications can make for a support nightmare.

To use Android's framework to best advantage, hardware designers and application developers need to focus on virtual sensors, instead of raw sensor data; pay attention to the sampling architecture; and improve the platform with optimized hardware and algorithms.

Platforms that interpret sensor data to yield consistent results will improve developer adoption of sensors. Virtual sensors based on meaningful use cases will enable more-relevant apps.

Virtual sensors in Android
Virtual sensors bridge the gap between what can be physically measured and what conceptually matters to developers. They also provide a framework to mitigate differences across hardware platforms and thereby provide a more consistent experience.

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