Indoor navigation, which has been a driver for at least some MEMS developments in smartphones, doesn't work well and is not really needed by phone users.
As such, pressure sensors, along with other sensors, could be omitted from some handsets in the future, according to Teemu Ramo, senior manager of audio hardware for Nokia Lumia Technology.
Speaking on a panel at the MEMS Executive Congress Europe, held in Munich, Germany on March 11, Ramo said:
It used to be that we chucked everything in. We are seeing a move to 'less is more.' For example indoor navigation has not panned out as planned. So the pressure sensor may get dropped from the mobile phone. We have to ask: What is the added value for any given sensor, so the air pressure sensor may go.
The pressure sensor is there to distinguish between floors of multi-level shopping mall, but the question is: for whose benefit?
Users are savvy and know that one reason it is there is so that they can be pitched at -- and they don't much like it. Also an indoor navigation system that doesn't work well merely serves as a persistent, negative advert for the phone maker's brand.
Meanwhile, there is business pressure to component count, cost, and energy consumption and do primary functions well, Ramo indicated.
It is part of what could be a coming trend to focus on what smartphone users actually want rather than gimmicks intended to wow technophile early adopters, according to Ramo. He did qualify this by saying that user requirements do get filtered through the mobile phone service operator channel, which may yet dictate that Nokia and other phone companies continue to throw more and more MEMS into their handsets to please apps developers.
When asked at the end of the panel about indoor navigation he said that radio beacons had become the focus for research because the dead-reckoning systems were not very accurate and often showed users being outside a mall when they were inside.
Even if indoor navigation systems worked they would be of more use to mobile phone service and other product and service vendors than they are to the users of the mobile phone. "Human beings do good sensor fusion and tend to know where they are," said Yannick Levy, vice president of corportate business development at consumer electronics company Parrot SA, who was also on the panel with Ramo. "I might become a fan [of indoor navigation systems] if I saw one that worked properly," Ramo told the audience.
When asked about this on the fringe of the meeting Ramo said that he felt that the mobile phone sector might be entering a new era where makers focus on what users want and use. "Samsung with the Galaxy S5 has said less is more," Ramo said.
He also said that while the first tier of smartphone adopters have been technophiles that wanted to try everything, the next generation of smartphone adopters will value the basic functions being done well.
This story was originally published on EE Times Europe.