Apple confirms motorcycle engine vibrations can damage iPhone lens

Photo: Apple

Apple’s technical support website has published a document that confirms what many motorcycle riders already knew. According to the warning, “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.

In other words: Mount your iPhone to your motorcycle’s handlebars, and your camera might stop working. While many riders use their iPhone as a handlebar-mounted GPS, Apple says it can damage the phone.

It’s not a shocking announcement, if you’ve been paying attention. Over the past few years, many iPhone users have reported their phone’s cameras have stopped working properly, after attaching the phones to their bikes. The problem: Vibrating motorcycle engines mess with the phone lens, and the image stabilization system no longer works.

Here’s what’s going on, according to Apple’s tech support website:

If you accidentally move a camera when you take a picture, the resulting image can be blurry. To prevent this, some iPhone models have optical image stabilization (OIS). OIS lets you take sharp photos even if you accidentally move the camera. With OIS, a gyroscope senses that the camera moved. To reduce image motion, and the resulting blur, the lens moves according to the angle of the gyroscope.

Additionally, some iPhone models have closed-loop autofocus (AF). Closed-loop AF resists the effects of gravity and vibration to preserve sharp focus in stills, videos, and panoramas. With closed-loop AF, on-board magnetic sensors measure gravity and vibration effects and determine the lens position so that the compensating motion can be set accurately.

The OIS and closed-loop AF systems in iPhone are designed for durability. However, as is the case with many consumer electronics that include systems like OIS, 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. It is recommended to avoid exposing your iPhone to extended high-amplitude vibrations. 

High-power or high-volume motorcycle engines generate intense high-amplitude vibrations, which are transmitted through the chassis and handlebars.

As a result, Apple is recommending that riders do not attach their phones to motorcycles that vibrate a lot. Sorry, thumper owners.

Apple says that motorcycles with less vibration (small-cc engines, or electric motorcycles) might be OK, but if users go this route, Apple recommends using an anti-vibration mount, and to avoid regular use for prolonged periods of time.

So, what does this practically mean for motorcyclists who have a bike that’s shakin’ all over?

First, if you’re on a Suzuki DR-Z400 or an older Harley-Davidson Sportster or something else with a lot of chassis vibration, you can always keep your iPhone in your pocket. Companies like Garmin make moto-specific GPS devices that may prove cheaper in the long run, when compared to phone damage. Watch for sales at places like GPS City, or even Costco, for deals on a lower-priced unit like the Garmin Zumo 396. Even some handhelds, which go on sale at outdoors retailers like Cabelas or Bass Pro, can offer some usefulness.

Second, if anti-vibration mounts aren’t available for bigger bikes yet, you could also consider using a tankbag for a phone mount. Do this at your own risk—Apple doesn’t mention this as an option, but it seems that stuffing a phone into a well-padded tankbag would be no worse than stuffing it into your jacket pocket. Even the cheapest tankbags tend to have a see-through cellphone pocket on top, and some like Giant Loop’s Buckin’ Roll have a minimalist form factor that works on even the smallest bikes.

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