January 10, 2011 | by Michael Heller
The upcoming Motorola Xoom knows that half the battle in the marketplace is won in the media, so holding back information on features, and well made ads (still love the “Tablet Evolution” video) can keep the tablet popping up in news feeds from now until launch. The newest feature to show up on a spec sheet is a built-in barometer, which also functions as an altimeter.
A built-in barometer is a great feature, and one that I’d expect may become more prevalent in smartphones. A barometer can measure and track atmospheric pressure in order to give you a more accurate local weather forecast. As is, weather apps have to pull in data from a centralized weather center, which in some cases can be 10-20 miles away from where you live, and that distance can make a big difference in weather forecasting. I know it could have been helpful growing up in the Adirondack Mountains, where 15 miles was the difference between 2 inches of snow and a foot of snow. Altimeter functions could be very useful for hikers. But, that’s where I think it would be better suited for smartphones.
Tablets are decidedly less mobile than phones. People won’t be carrying their tablet with them at all times, whereas a phone will be constantly with you. I certainly can’t imagine bringing a tablet on a mountain hike, but I would definitely bring my phone. Also, with the aggregate barometer data from cell phones scattered throughout an area, weather patterns, storm tracking and forecasting could change significantly.
Check back on this post. I plan to talk to a meteorologist in the next couple hours to get his take on the implications of this.
[UPDATE] I talked to two meteorologists, and both said basically the same thing: this is a good start, but even the aggregate data wouldn’t go far in helping to give you a personalized weather forecast, and wouldn’t help meteorologists much. This is the first step, but devices would also need ways to give accurate air temperature, wind speed and direction before the data could be really useful for building weather forecast models.