The main types of mobile sensors and their data-capturing opportunities

The main types of mobile sensors and their data-capturing opportunities

There is no need to puzzle over an issue where can you get the data for your future fitness, health, or e-commerce app. Smartphone producers have already solved it and implemented special mobile sensors inside. There are several different kinds of mobile sensors that can come in handy to you, such as motion, biometrical, environmental. Read this article if you want to learn more about all the mobile sensors and ways you can use them in your mobile app.

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There are a lot of reasons why mobile phones are considered smart devices. The main one is their ability to capture data and transfer it, a possibility which is provided by a set of specific sensors.

Let’s find out what the main types of sensors in the iPhone and Android are, what data they can collect and transfer, and how you may benefit from this technological advancement if decide to build a mobile app.

What is a mobile sensor?

Mobile phone sensors can be defined as specific technologies that are able to capture changes in the environment and respond by summoning a specific app to perform a particular task.

For example, a Near Field Communication (NFC) sensor reacts automatically when the smartphone is approaching a point-of-sale (POS) terminal that supports this technology. When a purchase is made, a payment app is opened and the payment is processed with the use of a fingerprint sensor in a mobile phone.

Making instant payments is not the only use of sensors in a mobile phone though. There are several types of smartphone sensors, each of which can be used for specific or multiple tasks.

Location-based and motion mobile sensors

These are the sensors that use the smartphone's location and movement.

  • Gravity (accelerometer). This is the sensor that is used to detect the orientation of the phone and its linear acceleration.
  • Gyroscope. This is a sensor that helps measure angular velocity expressed in degrees.
  • Geomagnetic field (compass). These are sensors that are able to detect cardinal points.
  • Proximity. These are location- and GPS-based sensors that are able to detect whether a certain device is in close proximity to a certain location.
  • GPS. This is one of the first sensors that was embedded into smartphones, and now it can be used across devices and industries for a lot of business tasks.
  • Phone distance sensor. This is the sensor that allows for calculating the distance traveled by the user in a certain period of time.

Use cases for location-based and mobile motion sensors

Location-based and motion sensors on phones are the ones that modern smartphones can’t do without. Their potential, as well as the potential of other types of phone sensors, is better revealed when paired with corresponding applications. For example:

  • A gyroscope sensor in a phone can be used in photo and video apps for image stabilization. It can also be used by fitness tracking devices in combination with an accelerometer and optical sensor that measures pulse.
  • A compass sensor in mobile phones can be used by apps for navigating the wilderness.
  • Proximity sensors in combination with beacon technology can be used by retailers to send notifications to potential customers when they are in close proximity to their store.
  • GPS sensors are widely used by smartphones, smartwatches, and other devices like fleet management solutions for tracking location, route planning, and optimization, and geofencing.

Environmental mobile sensors

Environmental sensors are the ones that capture the smallest changes in the surrounding environment and when paired with a specific app they send a notification and update the user on these changes.

  • The ambient light sensor is the technology that measures the level of surrounding ambient light and regulates the smartphone's screen brightness accordingly with the aim of saving battery charge or reducing the load on a user’s eyes.
  • Ambient temperature. This is the sensor that can accurately measure the surrounding temperature.
  • The barometer is the sensor that measures atmospheric pressure.

Use cases for environmental mobile sensors

The ambient light sensor in smartphones can be used by applications for reading. This sensor can make the user experience more enjoyable by automatically adjusting the screen brightness depending on reading conditions.

Ambient temperature and barometer can be used by weather applications for cases where the users want to find out not only the weather in a certain location but also current weather conditions with a high level of accuracy. Also, these sensors can be used by mine workers to identify potentially dangerous changes within the mine.

Biometric mobile sensors

Biometric sensors are the ones that process a user's physical characteristics.

  • A fingerprint sensor is a tool that allows for the scanning of the finger pattern of a user.
  • Facial recognition is a biometric sensor that uses an image of the user’s face and pairs it with camera sensors.

Use cases for biometric sensors

As a rule biometric sensors are used for user identification and authentication, for example, to unblock the phone, install or uninstall an app or make a payment. However, the scope of their usage goes beyond smartphones.

Biometric sensors can also be embedded in security devices and used for employee identification and access control. These devices use retina scanning as the main method for identification since this is currently the only parameter that’s impossible to fake.

Also, face recognition is used in face swap and filtering apps. Face swapping allows for accurate facial recognition and exchanging of the face of the user with the face of another person. Filtering apps use the same technology to add filters and effects to the right place in the photo.

Activity and health sensors

Below are the sensors that are used in conjunction with different health apps and wearable devices to track a user’s activity and health changes.

  • Pedometer. This is the sensor that is used by smartphones and wearable devices to measure the number of steps taken and miles walked per day.
  • Heart rate sensor. This sensor allows for measuring the heart rate in real-time like in an Apple Watch.
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Use cases for activity and health sensors

There are a lot of use cases for activity and health sensors. For example:

  • A heart rate sensor can be used in wearable devices and in specialized medical devices recommended for patients who need to monitor their heart rate.
  • Microphone sensors can be used in pulmonary health monitoring, which is especially relevant with Covid-19. The microphone sensor can measure and read respiratory rhythms when paired with an application, inspiratory depth, and cough features, and then record this data for further analysis.
  • Camera sensors can be used for skin health monitoring. With their help, analyzing the nature of red spots, rashes, and blemishes on the skin is possible. There are a lot of additional ways to use camera sensors beyond health and entertainment apps.

Other sensors

Barcode/QR code sensors. These are camera-powered sensors that are able to read barcode or QR code information. All modern smartphones already have these sensors built-in so using barcodes and QR codes in business makes a lot of sense. For example, a lot of restaurants use QR codes to prevent virus transmission from physical menus and to make changes to the menu easily. Also, barcode scanning with the help of the camera is often a feature of dieting and nutrition apps; it allows for quick scanning of the product code to add it to personal nutrition and calorie intake diary.

A microphone sensor is a tool that recognizes and listens to voice commands such as asking Apple’s Siri to do something. It may also be used for foreign speech recognition, translation, podcasting, and other tasks.


Modern smartphones are sensor-rich and this opens up a lot of promising opportunities for application development which are not limited to the ones we have listed above. You’re welcome to contact us at if you have an idea for an application that needs to be connected to any of the smartphone sensors we’ve described above and if you need competent and instant help with such a solution development!