The new iPod touch lacks auto-brightness as Apple dropped ambient light sensor

By , Oct 15, 2012

Apple’s fifth-gen iPod touch is unable to automatically adjust brightness of the display depending on your environment because engineers unexplicitly dropped the ambient light sensor from the device. This eyebrow-raising omission is that more puzzling knowing all prior iPod touch versions had that sensor, a common feature on iPhones and iPads as well.

News of this ‘discovery’ propagated throughout the Interwebs today, but our own Jeff Benjamin made a mention of the lack of ambient light sensor in his video review of the new iPod touch from three days ago…

GigaOM was first to jump on the opportunity to blog about this, noting that iOS 6 running on the new iPod touch won’t display the familiar auto-brightness switch under Settings > Brightness & Wallpaper.

Apple’s specs page notes as much.

As you can see yourself, the fifth-gen iPod touch only has a three-axis gyro and accelerometer sensor. The iPhone 5 additionally has a proximity light sensor and the ambient light sensor.

Here’s Jeff’s nicely done video review of his 32GB iPod touch, black & slate version. The lack of ambient light sensor is at mark 1:35

On his part, Jeff notes:

I also noticed, and this is a hardware issue as well, that these is no more Auto-Brightness setting in the Settings app. On closer examination, it appears that Apple removed the ambient light sensor from this year’s iPod touch.

I know that Apple reportedly had problems incorporating the ambient light sensor in the first white iPhone 4, causing numerous delays to that product. Perhaps the thinness of this device, coupled with the white face on all of the color models prompted Apple to forgo the feature.

Explaining the iPhone’s many sensors, Steve Jobs noted during his January 2007 iPhone keynote talk that the ambient light sensor provides for a longer battery life and a better user experience as it allows the handset to optimize brightness dynamically to match lightning conditions.

The removal of ambient light sensor on the fifth-generation iPod touch cannot be an oversight (although anything is possible with Bob Mansfield’s reduced role as Apple’s hardware chief) so there must be some logical reasoning behind this call.

Per Jeff’s explanation, technological obstacles or some such may have forced Apple to drop ambient light sensor.

Could be.

On the other hand, if they managed to pack in thinner cameras into a slim enclosure just 6.1mm thin, then a tiny little sensor shouldn’t have posed much of a problem for Apple’s clever engineers, no?

At any rate, I do hope this doesn’t pave the way to Apple dropping ambient light sensor from all future iOS devices. Honestly, that would be really, really cheap of Apple.

Tim Cook’s operational expertise, love for spreadsheets and supply chain skills are legendary so here’s to hoping that the CEO and his leadership team are not beginning to remove less visible hardware features form iOS devices just to save a cent or two.

I also think Apple’s media player needs a proximity sensor which helps automatically shut down the display when you pick up the device and bring it to your ear. Even though the iPod touch lacks the iPhone’s phone part, plenty of VoIP-enabled apps can be found on the App Store.

No doubt these apps would benefit from the proximity sensor and I’m gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that game developers could find some novel uses for the sensor.


Other than that, the new iPod touch is a marvel of engineering. You could say it’s Apple’s first iPod touch without pesky trade-offs which previously spoiled the fun.

Jeff puts it best:

If you’ve been sitting on the fence regarding the new touch, then get off that fence, and head down to your nearest Apple store and pick one up. You won’t be disappointed.

Why do you think Apple figured the iPod touch no longer needs ambient light sensor?

  • Share:
  • Follow:
  • http://twitter.com/MCaudebec Maxim∑

    This isnt a big issue but why Apple? I assume space constraints

  • CollegiateLad

    Slow news day I guess….

    • philadelphia

      Very slow.. So I guess I’ll be the guy who points out grammatical errors. First sentence, *inexplicably.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dillon.kirton.9 Dillon Kirton

        No he actually meant inexplicitly, which means its not explicit. Slow news day example

  • http://twitter.com/calebdaniels your parent

    Even though I love the ambient light sensor on my iPhones, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal on the iPod Touch. You mentioned that a user might raise the phone to his or her ear. Though they might do that, since the iPod lacks the secondary speaker above the screen that the previous phones have, raising it the ear would be pointless.

    Games using the app? Possibly.

    However, I do find it very useful when trying to use my phone at night – before iOS 6, turning it on after getting a call at 3AM would render my retinas useless until they adjusted to the light. On iOS 6, the sensor works so much better. The absence of an ambient light sensor is a major turn off for me.

  • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

    A quick work round would be to use the app QBright . You can preset 2 brightness setting at a press of the app.. Oh and it’s free..

    • marco1993

      QBright is an android app lmfao

      • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

        It’s also a idevice app.. I use it on my iPhone and iPad

      • samp1800

        ios*

      • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

        If you are meaning it works on all iOS devices I’ve got new for you it doesn’t .. Apple TV is a iOS device and your not going to use this on that..

  • shadyside4fyr

    Like I said “its amazing how many people want to stick their necks out for Apple. STOP making excuses for them! We should all as geeks support and stand for advancement of technology on all fronts and not braging rights (my iphone is faster than your ipodtouch) we should call a spade a spade it is not cool that the latest highest spec ipod touch has last years processor this year.and Oh! I have all idevices including the iphone5 so I am not biased.”

    • JamesR624

      Exactly, thank you. At least somebody here treats Apple the same way they should (and do) any other tech company as opposed to most of the apologists on here that cover their ears and go “la la la” when apple starts screwing up.

      • http://twitter.com/geekinit geekinit

        I totally agree. It’s like with the S3 mini. Everyone seems to be making excuses for Samsung. They dropped the ball. It should have been called the S2 mini. How dare people make excuses for a product they like!!

  • JamesR624

    “Tim Cook’s operational expertise, love for spreadsheets and supply chain skills are legendary so here’s to hoping that the CEO and his leadership team are not beginning to remove less visible hardware features form iOS devices just to save a cent or two.”
    Are you kidding? That’s ALL they’ve been doing since Tim has been fully in charge. This is why I keep saying apple is falling. They replaced a visionary CEO with a business man. Now apple is just like every other tech company, producing products that get shittier and shittier with the economy due to their CEO trying to squeeze out every last penny. It’s not about making good products anymore, they’re hoping (and failing) that Steve’s success from back when we had a health economy will keep them going forever, Its now just about saving money. Notice how they’ve just constantly been DROPPING features from devices. Every aspect of quality, from build quality, to customer service, to releasing services WHEN THEY’RE READY and not sooner, has been faltering. If you can’t see that then I’m gonna feel sorry for you when you have 100 worthless apple products when their stock drops to Facebook stock in about 7-10 years.

  • 8nn0yed

    I’ve never liked the variable brightness. I adjust mine as I see fit. No sensor needed. To me, it’s the same as automatic windshield wipers: unnecessary. It’s very easy to adjust brightness, and the same for flipping on the windshield wipers. Automating either is an unnecessary convenience, IMHO.

  • Irfan Tarique

    I loved the feature that the iPod touch dims automatically… I guess im keeping the ipod touch 4. the five looks like a rush job to me. I mean the antena is completely visible now… and i hated that on the old ipod

  • http://twitter.com/iFixuriPhones iPhone Repair Depot

    iOS power management is good enough that the light sensor barely has any benefit

    • http://twitter.com/iFixuriPhones iPhone Repair Depot

      On the iPod Touch, The iPhone of course needs this

    • Miki K.

      It isn’t about power management only. When I go into the dark my ipad automatically lowers the backlight. On my iPod touch I have to manually adjust it or it’s too bright. At least on the iPad you can swipe right from multitasking and adjust it from there, but on the iPod I have to go to settings and then brightness…basically it’s a lot easier when it’s automatic.

  • http://twitter.com/x_rus_x Vitaliy Anonymous

    I seriously miss those days when the iPod Touches were more powerful than iPhones.

  • http://twitter.com/oo7plasma Brandon Weidema

    not a huge deal i guess, but since when do new products remove features lol?

  • Erny Carrillo

    This right here is a short and direct to the point comment. Very nice explanation!!!

    • SimonReidy

      Thanks Erny.

  • http://twitter.com/XIPRELAY David

    This is the one and only reason i will not be buying the 5th gen ipod touch or the 6th gen ipod touch for that matter if it also lacks a light sensor.
    I’m sure even with the thinness of the device apple could have found a way to incorporate one into the IPT.
    As a matter of fact I think there should have been more than one light sensor.
    One on either side of the device.

    Even tho this might be a feature that I “turn off” (to save resources or whatever) It’s still a feature i want to have there and to use when i’m not using other apps that might not be necessary at that point in time.

    The sensors available now are so small and take up such a inconspicuous amount of space this was a unbelievable blunder by apple.

    For those of you who where not able to catch this lacking function in time I would suggest looking at the “.flux” project. It is not just for windows and linux any longer.
    The .Flux app changes the ambiance of the screen based on the time of the day. The app will also have more features in the future. Not only changing light ambiance based on time of day but also surrounding weather conditions based on your current location as well combined.

    EDIT:

    That all being said, i wonder if the functionality could be re-added using both front and back cameras with THEIR incorporated sensors along with other data such as time of day and weather etc..
    It wouldn’t be worth going through the trouble if the camera hardware wasn’t able to be used in my mind anyways.
    hrm…..

    EDIT II:
    This is the main reason i believe my old 3GS with old bootrom and 4s are still superior to any iphone out even the iphone 5. Just the feel of the devices blow away all the rest.
    Someone also mentioned that the iPhone 5′s sensor is not as good as the iphone 4/4s. Is this true ?

  • samp1800

    it works really well on my iPad 3rd gen though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adso.rossi Adso Rossi

    Who gives a damn about the light sensor? I always leave it off anyway, since it never set the brightness exactly as I want it. Besides, I bought my iPod touch 5 a week ago and it’s really marvelous. It’s so fast in everything that using my old iPod touch 4 makes me fall asleep now!!!!

  • http://www.deltecenterprises.org/ Deltec Enterprises

    I missed it the first day I upgraded. Every night I have to turn it down, then back up in the morning. Kinda annoying. Any good jailbreak tweaks that could help out? Maybe a brightness slider in the multitasking bar thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amelia.sunderbug Amelia Sunderbug

    Not happy! Really miss that feature! Put it back! Irritates me enough i am tempted to go back to 4g!