People can’t get enough of the Apple iPhone – whether it is the smooth multitouch interface or its state-of-the-art web browser, the iPhone has wooed the masses through and through. However, several technologies working behind the scenes usually go unappreciated. For example, the accelerometer, the ambient light sensor, and the infrared sensor in the iPhone help it to switch between portrait and landscape modes, to tune the screen brightness, and to turn off the touch screen when someone has the phone to the ear.

Nokia already had an accelerometer in its 5500 model sports phone that functioned as a pedometer. It measured the rate of vibrations during jogging and a software used it to calculate the speed and distance traveled.

However, according to a researcher at MIT, these are mundane uses for technology that can be used for much more. Research in MIT, Intel, and other places are exploring the possibilities of built-in sensors combined with the right software in giving detailed information about the user’s activities.

A gadget, the size of a small pager that takes in data from seven different sensors – an accelerometer, a barometer, a humidity sensor, a thermometer, a light sensor, a digital compass, and a microphone – is an example of research being done in this direction at Intel. The microphone gives an idea of social networks as well – it can tell you whether the person is at work or out with friends from conversations.

Privacy concerns are also taken into account – the microphone data is processed instantly and all words are removed. A recent study equipped first year students at University of Washington with gadgets like these and the social interactions among them were monitored.