Baffling some less imaginative folks is news that the Motorola Xoom tablet will feature a barometer (reported earlier but the baffling is recent). This pressure measuring instrument is typically associated with weather detection, but there’s an application of the technology that could be more useful to some people: auto-switching to flight mode.
While a barometer is useful if you need to know if it will rain and are unable to connect to the Internet for a weather report (or look at the sky), it’s a bit outdated in our era of constant connectivity. However, one place you can’t be connected is in an aircraft taking off or touching down. All modern wireless devices have a “flight mode” that turns off the wireless for this situation, but wouldn’t it be nice if your device could switch to flight mode automatically? Well, with a barometer, it’s possible.
A barometer detecting cabin pressurization in conjunction with location-awareness could be used to determine whether the device is in an aircraft ready for or in flight that’s in or near an airport. The device could then switch to flight mode or pop up a warning that it should be. There’s one FAA rule you won’t worry about any more.
Long-term, another use I see for onboard barometers is weather data gathering. As more Android devices with barometers are deployed, the more data Google (or others) can collect (at user’s discretion) about weather patterns which can lead to more accurate weather predictions and analysis. It’s like the movie Twister where they released dozens of little sensors into a tornado (inspired by NOAA’s VORTEX projects), except over a much broader span of time and space. While this use has no immediate benefit for users, it could lead to more accurate and precise weather reports.
Those are two benefits I can imagine off the top of my head, immediate and long-term, for barometers in mobile devices, aside from traditional weather detection. Perhaps more enterprising individuals will think of more. How about you?