Windows has been a mostly desktop/laptop OS with only the occasional slate. But with slates being one of the primary targets of Windows 8, devs had to tackle an interesting problem – what to do with all those sensors that smartphones and tablets have?
Windows 8 will feature support for ambient light sensors and also an accelerometer, compass and gyroscope, which will be mashed together into something Microsoft calls “Sensor fusion” to improve the sensor’s performance.
Adjusting the screen’s brightness according to the ambient lighting conditions is an old (but vital) trick in portable devices, even Windows 7 supported it.
The Sensor fusion is more interesting though. Microsoft’s team looked at all sorts of apps that use the motion and orientation of a portable device for inspiration. One of their tests was to create a virtual reality app that allows you to look around a room using a tablet (think Street Maps with Compass mode on).
What they found was that using just an accelerometer and a compass wasn’t enough, so they added a gyroscope to the mix. But that wasn’t enough – data from these sensors was noisy and didn’t provide a smooth experience. To solve this problem, they combined the readings of all three sensors to provide better data apps.
Here’s a video demo of Windows 8 and Sensor fusion in action and how it compares to the traditional approach:
Most of the data crunching is done by the sensor hardware before it even reaches the processor and then it’s sent only as fast as the app wants it. This keeps CPU load as low as possible and reduces power usage.
Better still – sensors will use a Microsoft-provided driver. Anyone who has ever had headaches will be pleased to hear that.
You can read the full post over at the Building Windows 8 blog if you’re curious for more details.