• PosturePal detects slouching using your AirPods’ motion-tracking.
  • Apple’s accessibility features make it easy for developers to create all kinds of neat apps. 
  • Spatial Audio lets developers track your head movements with incredible accuracy.

Someone wearing Apple AirPods while leaned against a pink wall.

PosturePal uses your AirPods as motion sensors to detect when you’re slouching. 

If you had access to the super-accurate motion data from AirPods’ 3D head tracking technology, what would you do with it? If you’re innovative, accessibility-focused developer Jordi Bruin, you’d use it to ensure the wearer sits up straight. His new app, PosturePal, monitors your posture and provides warnings when you fail to comply. It’s a great app and shows just how good Apple’s devices are when you want to work with any kind of accessibility. 

"For as long as I can remember, Apple has been a forerunner when it comes to accessibility features and APIs. They make them easy to work with and easy to test if you spend a little bit of time looking at the documentation. For me personally, I don't feel like I have to think about accessibility anymore while I'm developing because the workflow is so simple to add to an existing or new app," Bruin told Lifewire via email. 

Sit Up

PosturePal is an example of clever thinking to create a really useful app, but it is also a demonstration of how well Apple’s platforms enable accessibility. iOS is already probably the best platform for built-in accessibility. It’s possible to customize how it looks and works to a degree that renders your iPhone or iPad almost unrecognizable.

Screenshots from the PosturePal app.

Take a deep dive into the settings, and you can easily set up your iPhone to be used without looking at (or seeing) the screen; you can control it with just your voice and lots more. These affordances would be useless if apps couldn’t hook into them too, so Apple makes it easy for developers to add accessibility support. 

But it is also possible to hack the system to add even more useful features. 

PosturePal

In iOS and macOS, Spatial Audio monitors the position of your head to deliver more convincing surround sound for movies and music playback. Still, that data can be used for other purposes. 

"Apple has made some of the core AirPods motion data available for developers in a very easy way. We can basically get three axes of motion data about the user's head," says Bruin. "While this API isn't necessarily meant to be used for accessibility apps, it does open up a lot of new possibilities related to controlling apps through your head movement. It takes less than 5 minutes to get the API up and running, so Apple makes it very easy to discover the possibilities."

PosturePal uses this data to warn you when you slouch, either via an audio warning or via the screen of your iPhone. 

This is not the first time Bruin has hacked the system. Last year, Lifewire covered his Navi app, which uses a combination of SharePlay and built-in translation to offer real-time transcription and translation of FaceTime calls. It’s a complex app made easy by the built-in accessibility tools. 

Screenshots from the PosturePal app.

Immersive

Portal is an app that creates immersive soundscapes that seem to be fixed in real space around you. But before AirPods’ head tracking, it would have been impossible to build into a phone. 

“We’d actually looked into head-tracked audio as part of the R&D before we launched the app, so we knew it could be a game-changer and allow us to push what’s possible in terms of realism and immersion. The only reason we hadn’t taken it any further was that there was no easy way to deliver the experience to end-users—expensive VR headsets were about the only way at the time,” Portal’s Stuart Chan told Lifewire in an email.

"Apple's announcement of Spatial Audio took us by surprise, and the fact that they were rolling the feature out to millions of existing AirPods Pro/Max users from day one made it a no-brainer."

PosturePal is a fun app, but it can have a serious effect on your body if you use it to correct bad habits. It's precisely the kind of thing our devices should be doing for us. And now that all of us carry a pocket computer bristling with sensors with us almost all the time, plus connected watches and AirPods, the opportunities are just getting wider.

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