While video recording, more storage space, faster processor speeds, and better games have been the main calling cards for the iPhone 3G S, the biggest reason to upgrade may be yet to come--and it has to do with the seemingly most innocuous feature of all, the magnetometer.
Imagine a browser in which you view the real world through a camera lens and a heads-up display picks out interest points amid the living cityscape. This type of augmented reality has been the stuff of science fiction, but the cell phone browser Layar by Dutch software developer SPRXmobile claims to make it real. See the video for yourself.
Layar takes the sort of GPS POI data in current map-based apps, like ATMs, houses for sale, or nearby hotspots, and displays them overlaid on the landscape as seen through the camera lens.
It's debuting later this month for Android phones in the Netherlands--not exactly a huge starting demographic, but if it works, this could be the start of something big. Development is also planned for the iPhone 3G S, and SPRXmobile plans to take Layar to the U.S. eventually. But here's the kick: GPS alone isn't enough for this type of augmented reality to work. A magnetometer, used to power Apple's compass app and future turn-by-turn navigation software in the 3G S, would also be necessary (Android phones have compasses already).
So apps like these can only be released for the iPhone 3G S, not the 3G.
Considering that the iPhone 3G S also has a beefed-up camera, it seems like a perfect marriage. In fact, maybe, just maybe, that new camera wasn't just for pictures and video recording. Certainly, Apple has been paying attention to augmented reality projects on their own devices.
If augmented-reality navigation apps can progress at the same feverish development pace as the rest of the App Store, the new iPhone could soon be capable of location-based feats that approach tricorder capabilities, scanning the environment in real-time for data. We'd all be holding our phones in front of our faces like spyglasses, but what a wild near-future that would be.