Before we go into details of how a barometer in a Smartphone can be useful to the consumer, let us first understand what a barometer is. Typically it is said to be an instrument that evaluates atmospheric pressure. The reading thus got can be utilized to predict interim weather changes and also to get a fair idea of altitude.

The primary purpose of the barometer is (at least, I’ve been told) to make GPS lockons faster. Locking on to a GPS involves numerically solving a 4-dimensional set of linear equations — 3 dimensions in space, and time. (Yes, you get accurate time for free if you lock on to GPS.) Because of the way GPS works, this can take a few minutes. This goes much faster if you already have an estimate of your location. This is why “aGPS” (assisted GPS) services are so popular: by starting with a rough city-level coordinate fix through something like cell-tower network location, you can reduce the amount of math you have to do to lock on. This is where the barometer comes in. The 3 dimensions in space are latitude, longitude… and altitude. The barometer gives you a reasonable first-cut estimate for altitude. This gives you a bit of a leg up on one of the dimensions — especially combined with “2D” aGPS — which can help speed up lock-on in general. Now of course, the barometer can also be used for things like, well, determining atmospheric pressure (although I’m not sure it’s really weather grade.) But the main reason it’s in your phone is to help with GPS.

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