Apple Issues Important iPhone Warning to Motorcycle Owners

iPhones are at risk from powerful motorbike vibrations.
iPhone mounted on motorcycle Credit: Ralph Katieb / Unsplash
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If you’ve been mounting your iPhone to your Harley, you may want to stop, as it turns out that the vibrations caused by high-power motorcycle engines could damage some of the more sensitive components in your iPhone’s camera.

Apple recently issued a support bulletin to highlight this issue, noting that the camera system on modern iPhones could be degraded as a result of “high amplitude vibrations,” and specifically those commonly generated by high-power motorcycle engines.

The problem appears to specifically affect the optical image stabilization (OIS) found on almost all iPhone cameras released in the past several years, as well as the closed-loop autofocus (AF) used on the iPhone XR and 2020 iPhone SE.

Exposing your iPhone to high amplitude vibrations within certain frequency ranges, specifically those generated by high-power motorcycle engines, can degrade the performance of the camera system.

Apple Support

According to Apple, since the very purpose of an optical image stabilization system is to “automatically counteract movement, vibrations, and the effects of gravity to let you focus on taking a great shot,” it’s understandable how high-intensity vibrations could throw some of these sensors off.

By design, OIS and closed-loop AF measure vibrations so that they can compensate for them. OIS uses a gyroscope to sense when the camera moves and then adjusts the lens accordingly, while closed-loop AF works with on-board magnetic sensors that measure gravity and vibration effects to determine the lens position.

In either case, although these systems are designed to be very durable, Apple notes that “long-term direct exposure to high-amplitude vibrations within certain frequency ranges may degrade the performance of these systems and lead to reduced image quality for photos and videos.”

Apple’s reasons for posting the service bulletin at this particular time aren’t apparent. Earlier this year, the company posted a similar bulletin warning that certain magnetic accessories could interfere with OIS and closed-loop AF, since they could disable the sensors or throw them out of whack. Unlike problems caused by high-intensity vibrations, the effects of magnetic interference are generally temporary, persisting only for as long as the magnetic field is nearby.

What This Means

To be clear, if you’re simply carrying your iPhone in your jacket pocket while riding a high-powered motorbike, there’s likely nothing to worry about, as the vibrations will be dampened by your body and your clothing.

The problem results from attaching your iPhone to your motorbike with something like a handlebar mount, and this is what Apple is recommending against.

High-power or high-volume motorcycle engines generate intense, high-amplitude vibrations, which are transmitted through the chassis and handlebars. It is not recommended to attach your iPhone to motorcycles with high-power or high-volume engines due to the amplitude of the vibration in certain frequency ranges that they generate.

Apple Support

The support bulletin does note that lower-power motorbikes like moped and scooters should be safer, but it still recommends the use of “a vibration dampening mount in these cases to “lessen the risk of damage.” Apple also recommends you avoid “regular use for prolonged periods.”

While short-term exposure isn’t likely to be much of a problem, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and avoid using motorcycle mounts in the first place. Keeping your iPhone in your pocket is the safest course of action, and if you really want to be able to enjoy your iPhone’s infotainment and nav systems on the open road, you can always pick up a bike with CarPlay.

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