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Inside iPhone 4: Gyro spins Apple ahead in gaming

Video game commotion about motion

Apple's new gyro not only beat other smartphone makers to market, but also premiered ahead of motion-based controls on dedicated gaming devices. Nintendo won't bring accelerometer and gyro support to its new Nintendo 3DS until March 2011. Sony's PSP Go, released last fall, has neither type of motion sensor built in and has announced no plans to add any (while it can theoretically be used with Sony's SIXAXIS controller for the PS3, nobody is supporting that sort of thing today, nor does it make much sense for a handheld device to use a separate controller).

The iPhone 4's gyro introduction resonated with new announcements at E3 related to the leading video game console vendors, each of whom were demonstrating their own new motion-based gaming technologies for their gaming consoles.

In video game consoles, accelerometer-based motion control was pioneered by Nintendo, which around 2001 bought up patents from Gyration pertaining to that company's motion sensing PC mice. Five years later, the company had completed an innovative design for a one-handed controller using a 3-axis accelerometer paired with an IR camera designed to locate itself in space using a stationary "sensor bar," which enables the Wii Remote to determine where it is being pointed.

The company first planned to use the new controller to extend the lifespan of the GameCube, but after that console largely failed as a product due to being branded as a toy for children, the new controller was used to launch the Revolution console, later renamed Wii. Motion-based controls have defined the Wii gaming experience.

Just months after the announcement of Nintendo's Wii motion-based "Wii Remote," Sony rushed its own SIXAXIS controller to market for the PS3, although fewer PS3 titles have made much use of its motion-sensing controller; most PS3 games have been more conventional button-oriented titles as opposed to the Wii where motion-based control is a major feature of the platform. Additionally, while the SIXAXIS controller detects changes on "more axes," it can't be used to point at the screen like the Wii Remote can.

Last summer, Nintendo released the Wii MotionPlus, an add-on device that plugs into the Wii Remote and adds a 3-axis gyroscope to enable much greater positioning accuracy to the controller. While the Wii Remote could sense up/down, right/left and back/forth movements, these require flicking or jabbing the controller and don't really respond to different degrees of motion. Adding the MotionPlus gyro provides sensitivity for slight degrees of motion along six axes for determining precisely where the controller is in space.

In the last week, Microsoft and Sony both demonstrated new camera-based motion detection features, the Xbox Kinect and and Playstation Move. Kinect is entirely camera and mic based, scanning the user's full body motions, while Move uses motion based controllers like the Wii Remote with MotionPlus in addition to a magnetometer and camera sensing LED sphere that are all combined to determine the location and movement of the controllers in the user's hands. Clearly, the whole industry thinks that motion-based gaming is a big deal.

gyro accelerometer history

On page 4 of 4: Gyro motion extends Apple's lead mobile games.