Your iPhone Is Now Officially a Star Trek Tricorder

With new apps and advanced features, we've surpassed Starfleet capabilities

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The latest fake images of the iPhone 5 hit Gizmodo Wednesday afternoon. French designer Antoine Breiux imagines, like everyone, that the next generation iPhone will sport curved edges, a bigger screen, a more powerful processor. Pair the rumors of a bigger more powerful iPhone 5 with some new apps that enable you to check your blood pressure and scan for melanoma, and we're just going to say it like it is: The iPhone has finally made the jump to become a full-fledged tricorder. Seriously, NASA is already sending them into space.

Bear with us while we geek out. The tricorder is a fictional handheld do-everything device from Star Trek. Starfleet issued tricorders with three basic scanning functions--geological (GEO), meteorological (MET) and biological (BIO)--to fill the crew members' various needs while flying in space and exploring alien planets. Over the years different models added different capabilities, but most of them all featured a touchscreen and scanning capabilities. The iPhone does it all with one device (cue Steve Jobs keynote clip). Here's breakdown of the functions and their corresponding apps.


Medical - As mentioned earlier, the new Withings Blood Pressure Monitor just hit the market and can check your vitals with the help of a sort of expensive external armband device. Just this week, a startup that builds an app called Skin Scan received €50,000 in funding. That app uses the iPhone camera to track suspicious freckles and claims it can help spot melanoma.
Social - This is basically biological. Facebook and Foursquare aside, there are other apps that make it easier to communicate with others. Just like the tricorder helps Captain Kirk talk to aliens, an app called Jibbigo offers speech-to-speech translations. You can apparently carry on entire conversations in foreign language with it. Tricorders also offered the capability to project hologram messages. Meet iHologram, the iPhone equivalent that uses the phone's gyroscopes to create a 3D-like video experiences.


Navigation - This one's easy. The default Google-powered Maps app uses the phone's GPS capabilities to provide directions, check congestion, or see a satellite image of your location. There's also a built-in Compass app that does cardinal directions. Beyond that, apps like Google Earth provide three-dimensional views of the ground, and there's a host of other GPS-enabled apps that offer more complex map features like voice-navigation.

Nature - Leafsnap, which debuted in May, uses the phone's camera to identify trees based on images of their leaves. Terraphone uses the phone's GPS technology to identify minerals, strata and fossil in any given location. And Bombora covers the oceans. Built both for surfers and fisherman, the app offers nautical forecasts based on NOAA data.


Weather - The iPhone comes with a built-in weather app, but The Weather Channel offers a better one that streams video of nearby storms, offers visual traffic reports and an animated Doppler radar map. Accuweather does all of those things but is a little more user friendly.

Atmosphere - Like members of Starfleet, some people on Earth fly things. AeroWeather is geared towards pilots and offers detailed information about conditions at any altitude. A couple of weeks ago, PC World reported that a pair of iPhones will travel to the International Space Station aboard Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis to take atmospheric measurements from space:

No, the Apple devices won't be beta testing iOS 5's new Twitter integration to tweet cool space photos back to us Earthlings.

Instead, the spacefarers are going to use the handsets as research tools utilizing the iPhone 4's three-axis gyroscope, accelerometer, and cameras. Just like a Star Trek-style Tricorder, the devices will collect data to estimate altitude, position in space, and attempt to detect radiation.

We're obviously not the first ones to draw the comparison between smartphones and science fiction devices. In fact, there's an app for that, too.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.