Email from Phil Schiller explains lack of ambient light sensor in 5th gen iPod touch

By , Oct 16, 2012

Yesterday we emphasized the lack of an ambient light sensor in the 5th generation iPod touch after initially highlighting the omission in our iPod touch 5th gen review.

Now a reader claims to have emailed Apple’s SVP of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, and received a response explaining the drop of the sensor. The reason for the omission? It’s just too thin.

Here is the purported email from Schiller. While it would be impossible to 100% prove the legitimacy of such an email, Apple’s executives have been known to respond to emails, and the explanation isn’t exactly far fetched. Judge for yourselves.

For what it’s worth, I measured both devices for myself, and here’s what I found:

iPod touch 5th generation: approximately 6.13mm at its thickest point (not including the protruding camera lens).
iPod touch 4th generation: approximately 7.13mm at its thickest point.

While I still find it a bit odd that Apple couldn’t have engineered an ALS to fit within the confines of the 5th gen’s new shell, it is the best explanation I could think of for the lack of the sensor.

What do you think?

Thanks to Raghid for filling us in.

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  • Caleb

    would the lack of an auto brightness on the ipod touch 5 reduce the battery life?

    • shadyside4fyr

      No it wont

      • Caleb

        okay thank you for replying so quickly! i’m considering about paying one but i was afraid without the auto brightness it would decrease battery life..but i guess it wont! thanks again!

      • Emre SUMENGEN

        Care to elaborate, Phil? LOL

    • Aleksander Azizi

      if you have it on full brightness all the time it will decrease your battery life (as it would dim down if it had the sensor), but on a normal mid way brightness, nope.

    • travelsheep

      battery last almost one day, if you just check emails, calendar, and listen to some podcast. maybe check the weather. however, if you leave safari and mail open in the background chances are ipod 5 is empty the next morning.

  • http://twitter.com/Tashawn focus. evolve.

    If you can make everything else smaller why not just complete it with the ALS?

  • VATekMan

    I just do not understand the constant rush for the thinnest device at the expense of features…. I think that most of the devices are already thin enough that adding 1 mm or keeping the same from the previous version so that you can have a larger battery or more features is so much more appeasing. Does anyone really look at phones these days and say, “wait I do not want that one, it is 1 mm thicker than that one…” Here is a good poll for the site, how many people have their phone in a case?

    • CollegiateLad

      Some consider thinness a feature and more valuable to the overall product than a light sensor. And apparently, Apple agrees.

      • http://twitter.com/e420kush e420Kush

        honestly, I never use the auto-brightness. I find it rather annoying and I just choose not to use the feature.

    • MacDevil

      @VATekMan:disqus This! If Apple had said when unveiling the iPhone 5 something like: “The new unibody design means we could have made the phone thinner, and we definitely thought about just doing that. But one of the biggest complaints we get about the iPhone is battery life. So, we decided to keep the thickness the same as the iPhone 4S and instead doubled the battery life!” I would have preordered the 5 on day 1, even though I still have a year left on my contract for the 4S. Never once have I picked up my 4S and thought “damn this thing is just too thick.” But I think “damn my battery is draining so quickly” almost every day.

      For a company that prides itself on thoughtful design choices, Apple made several with the iPhone 5 that still have me scratching my head.

      • JamesR624

        Completely agreed. HOWEVER, I think the 4S was PEFECT thickness, which means whenever I had to put a case on it, it DID feel just a TINY bit too thick. With the 5, I’m able to put a case on it and it is as thick as the iPhone 4S. I think the 5 reached PERFECT thickness for people who love protecting their phone and use cases.

        Besides. The battery life is still really good. I live in an area with very little signal and I have tried the iPhone 4S, 5, Galaxy S III, and Galaxy Nexus. Out of all of them, the 4S and 5 are still the ONLY two phones that I can carry around all day and not have to think about the battery life.

      • Aleksander Azizi

        You would put your iPhone 5 in a case, shame on you ! ;p

      • http://twitter.com/e420kush e420Kush

        Lots of people do, including me! and depending on the case ou get it can be even thinner than the iPhone 4S with the case on it. I for one like to keep a good resale value on my phones, so yes a case is going on it.

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

      for me, lighter is now more important then thinner.

      • http://twitter.com/e420kush e420Kush

        those 2 key features kinda go hand in hand with each other…

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

        if your house is full of apple devices it is.

      • Matt

        I like heavy phones.

      • Matt

        Personally, for me. It says ‘Quality’

    • http://twitter.com/kipb Kip Beatty

      No, people rarely look at a phone or media player and think, “I’d love it if it were 1 mm thinner or 20 g lighter.” However, they regularly pick up and hold the newest iOS device and are blown away by how thin and light Apple has managed to make it. The old one (and products from others) immediately feel bulky by comparison. Hold the devices up for an extended period of time to read a book or watch a movie, and the reduction in weight is very much appreciated, let alone how much more comfortable they are in your pocket.

      Apple prioritizes reducing size and weight in their design, it’s part of their DNA. Their customers have voted with their wallets time and time again approving of this design philosophy. For those that would prefer larger devices if it means a bigger checklist of features and possibly longer battery life (some of the largest early Android LTE phones lasted 2 hours, so they don’t always go hand in hand) and don’t mind a thicker, heavier devices there are no shortage of those to choose from. Big ass devices are all the rage in the Android world at the moment. You can also buy external battery cases that will give you a huge extension.

      • 3GS user

        Dude, I’ve got a 3GS which is technically thicker than the subsequent models, but, maybe due to the fact that it’s tapered at the edges, does not feel bulkier (to me).

        I’m not rushing out to buy an iPhone 5, mostly because of the price, but also because I don’t care about it being any thinner, and because the camera seems like a step backwards… because they are prioritizing thinness over all else.

        At some point you just have to say “It’s thin enough!”.

    • travelsheep

      same thinking here. I guess the phone that will paper-cut your fingers first will win the race …

  • Mohammad Ridwan

    and the 4th gen’s ambient light sensor has NO fuctionality…

  • http://twitter.com/iDara09 Dara

    Change (it’s just too thin!) to (we just can’t make it possible, now!)

  • shadyside4fyr

    Hopefully he can explain lack of A6 too in the HIGHEST end ipodtouch (keyword being HIGHEST END) most people on a budget would rather buy the 32gb model and people who don’t care about specs would rather buy last year’s sorry last 2yrs model. I don’t know about u but An apple gaming device with 64gb memory, NO CONTRACT and can fit in my pocket is what I want. A5 should have been on it last year, and correct me if I’m wrong but I’m starting to see a pattern here.

    • http://twitter.com/kipb Kip Beatty

      I can explain the lack of an A6 chip in the iPod touch, but you won’t care for the answer. The A6 is a brand new, bleeding edge chip that’s very expensive relative to the older A5. Apple couldn’t put an A6 in the iPod Touch and sell it for $299. As it stands, almost every review I’ve read about the new iPod Touch complains about the current price, so imagine if it started at $399 or higher.

      Remember, the iPhone costs $700 or so (only with a contract is it subsidized). It’s twice as expensive as the iPod Touch. There have to be technical tradeoffs to bring the price down, although happily there are far fewer this time than in past versions (IPS display!).

      • armund

        before you sound off your uneducated mouth, why not do some, let’s call it light research.
        the cost to manufacture each iPhone 5 16GB is around $210, not $700 like you say, and it increases only marginally for the higher storage variants.

        so Apple sells each new iPhone unit at over 200% mark-up, and they had an even higher profit margin for the 4S and models released before that when those first came out.

        it is not hard to see how their iPhone business alone is now worth more than entire Microsoft Corp.

        i highly suggest you exercising your right to silence when you don’t know what you’re talking about. saves others from being misinformed, and you some embarrassment!

      • http://twitter.com/kipb Kip Beatty

        Wow, read first before you call someone uneducated. I was referring to consumer cost to purchase (retail price), not Apple’s cost to manufacture. If you want to maintain there is no difference in cost for Apple between an A6 and an A5, go ahead. You’re wrong, but don’t let that stop you.

  • Guest

    Thanks for sharing this, Jeff!

  • iHamzaDev

    Having the ALS in the iPod Touch 4G was kind of pointless IMO. Revoking the ALS from the 5th Generation iPod Touch’s was a good move. It really isn’t needed. It will take an extra 2 seconds for you to go to the Settings panel and reduce/increase the brightness. ALS isn’t needed in the iPod Touch. Now the iPhones are a different story.

    • 3GS user

      How is it unimportant on an iPod touch, but important on an iPhone?

      I don’t think I could, on my 3GS, get out of whatever app I’m currently using, go into Settings, then change the setting for display brightness, and go back to what I was doing in 2 seconds.

      12 seconds would be more comfortable, but let’s say you’re right. Even if it were only 2 seconds, that time quickly adds up as you move into and out of areas with differing ambient light conditions.

      More importantly, the annoyance of having to do it manually every time would add up. Sooner than later, you’d just stop doing it because it would be too much trouble.

      They didn’t include the ambient light sensor in the iPod touch because they want to increase profit margins. They tout the iPod touch as being just like the iPhone, giving it the “same” features (FaceTime camera, iSight camera, Retina Display, et cetera) but in reality, its componentry has consistently been cheaper and lower quality than the iPhone’s.

      • iHamzaDev

        Too much trouble? It just shows how lazy people are. I always have Auto Brightness off on my iPhone and I manually change the brightness, and have been for several years. It hasn’t been troubling for me. It’s only troubling for those who are dead-down lazy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Nulono Christopher Peter Robinson

        Um, it’s not laziness. How are you supposed to navigate to the brightness controls if it’s too bright outside to see the screen?

        Though I don’t really mind the removal of the ALS that much, since the auto-brightness has never worked for me anyway. I still find myself standing in the sunlight with the auto-brightness stubbornly refusing to adjust, and having to put it under my shirt so I can see it well enough to turn up the brightness.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1403226226 Kevin Deamandel

    you can know whether it came from apple if you saw the mail headers

    • http://www.youtube.com/myjailbreakmovies/ Jeff Benjamin

      Those can easily be spoofed as well.

      • Raghid Harake

        Give me a way to prove this was not spoofed Jeff.

      • Mark Scholes

        Cryptographic email signing has existed for years, use that

      • Emre SUMENGEN

        Actually, verifying that the sending MTA is Apple’s will give an idea… Unless you own the receiving mail server, that information is pretty hard to change and I don’t think Apple would ever let anyone (including their internal users) mimic someone like Phil Schiller’s online identity, especially not in their mail server…

        I mean, that’s not hard proof, but that’s something…

        But, why would we want to have proof on something like that???

  • http://twitter.com/eduardomart Eduardo Martinez

    Just one more reason to Jailbreak it, so you can add quick access to controls like brightness

    • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.apperley1 Andrew Apperley

      If it doesnt have the light sensor, jailbreaking it wont help. It has access to brightness but the hardware is absent to allow it to auto adjust.

      • http://www.facebook.com/Nulono Christopher Peter Robinson

        He means jailbreaking it so you can easily access the manual controls.

  • HildyJJ

    Just to point out the obvious that people are missing – the freaking camera has an extremely good light sensor. Why not just use one of the pixels to control the backlight? Admittedly, it would result in an overly bright screen when the iPod was set down but for the most part it would save the battery.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    that is always the first feature that i turn off when i get a new IOS device… lol i will control my own brightens thank you..

  • xeokys

    Right now when you double tap the home button to go multi tasking controls, you can swipe left twice to get to volume controls. It’d be nice if they added an option to change that to a brightness control (or added any quicker way to change brightness without having to open the settings app).

  • http://www.facebook.com/grahambeale Graham Beale

    Wouldn’t it be respectful to blur out the email addresses?

  • http://www.facebook.com/seanxwong Sean Wang

    Sadly, Apple products are getting either Longer or Thinner.

  • 3GS user

    Our company has got a design for a paper-thin smartphone almost ready to hit the market. Like Apple’s, ours is just too thin to include a number of things: Doesn’t have a camera, there are no internal speakers, battery isn’t replaceable, and there’s no USB port, but as I said, it’s PAPER-THIN!

    Okay, it’s just a piece of paper.
    …but you’ll love it because it’s so thin and lightweight.
    Only $399, and, if you have a problem with the battery, just come in to our service center. Our expert technicians will replace it for you while you wait!

  • travelsheep

    I vote for add 5mm, re-add ambient light sensor and boost battery life to last at least 1 (one) day (when not watching video or playing games) !!!!!