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How the M7 chip in the iPhone 5S is set to drive mobile health forward

I have previously discussed the impact of mobile devices upon mobile health, or mHealth as it is known. I believe that the functionality of wearables like the Fitbit, Jawbone UP, Nike+ FuelBand, and others that monitor activity and sleep, will most likely be coming to many smartwatches. Indeed, I believe that Apple will make this a priority if it does go ahead and develop an iWatch – I have even previously suggested that Apple's first wearable might be a dedicated health monitor of some type.

And of course, Apple recently made a very interesting move with the introduction of the M7 coprocessor with the new iPhone 5S. This new chip continually monitors motion data using the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass, and also takes users' ID measurements and optimises them based on contextual awareness. Apple will provide developers access to the chip via a new CoreMotion API, which should enable a new generation of fitness apps.

At the iPhone launch last month, Apple said Nike will use the M7 chip to deliver an app called Nike+ Move. Now instead of having to wear a Nike+ FuelBand to monitor your activity, the iPhone 5S will handle it for you. And once other health and fitness software vendors develop apps using the M7 chip, they too will create a whole host of apps that let your phone monitor your activity. (Existing apps can count steps but are a drain on battery life).

I don't believe this makes fitness-tracking products obsolete for most people, but it should eliminate the need for these wearable devices for iPhone 5S owners. This could add an incentive to buy an iPhone 5S, especially if you consider having to wear a health monitoring device a drag.

This coprocessor is quite interesting for two reasons, and the first pertains to the software community. Every time you give developers a powerful processor to program and deliver great tools, their creative juices get flowing and they create some truly innovative apps. The Nike+ Move will be a good start, but I suspect software developers will eventually deliver all types of apps related to health, navigation, and various motion functions given the feature set inside the M7 chip.

The second thing that makes this chip fascinating is its expansive potential. For example, I could see this chip being used in dedicated health devices for those who do not have an iPhone 5S. And it makes sense that this chip could end up inside any future iWatch. To me it seems like this chip could be at the heart of many future Apple wearable devices.

While companion chips have been part of the smartphone landscape for years, the M7 is the first coprocessor to be targeted specifically at mobile health. Its inclusion will most likely cause Apple's competitors to make a mad dash to third-party semiconductor vendors in order to get a similar processor for their smartphones.

On a personal level, the wearable devices I use today have helped motivate me to move and walk more, and I believe they have sped up my recovery from my bypass surgery last year. My hope is that with Apple pushing mHealth in its new smartphones, this idea takes root with users and pushes other smartphone vendors to follow Apple's lead and make their devices more mHealth-friendly.