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Apple warns your iPhone camera can be wrecked by motorcycle vibrations

(Image credit: Future)

Apple has warned motorcyclists that mounting iPhones on the bike’s handlebars for navigation purposes is a bad idea that can cause serious damage to the phone’s delicate camera system.

As spotted by MacRumors, a new support page has appeared on Apple’s site, advising that the delicate optical image stabilization (OIS) and close-loop autofocus (AF) systems can be damaged by vibrations from the engines, which travel sufficiently to do potential and permanent damage.

“The OIS and closed-loop AF systems in iPhone are designed for durability,” Apple writes. “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.”

As such 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,” the company concludes. 

Vehicles with similar designs but smaller engines — like mopeds and electric scooters — don’t have the same inherent risk, but Apple still recommends that the “comparatively lower-amplitude vibrations” are countered with a vibration dampening mount, and that you avoid “prolonged periods” of use. 

Given the nature of the two camera technologies — OIS uses a built-in gyroscope, while AF relies on magnetic sensors — it’s perhaps not surprising that the technology is vulnerable to intense and prolonged vibration. 

And indeed you don’t have to dig too deep to find tales of people who have been impacted. One rider found that a single eight-mile ride was enough to break the iPhone camera, resulting in “swimmy” images which refuse to focus

It’s not clear why Apple has decided to raise awareness now, but it’s certainly a good thing that it has — one person said they had their phone replaced twice before someone at the Apple Store picked up on the problem, and only then because they themselves ride a motorcycle.

The alternatives 

So, what can you do if you’re a motorcyclist who relies on the iPhone for navigation? Well, there are products which claim to improve things, such as the $54 Hondo Buzz-Kill Vibration Isolator, but whether it will be sufficient to guarantee your iPhone’s safety is another matter.

There are also dedicated handlebar GPS solutions which are built for the purpose and don’t have the same delicate internals to worry about. Something like the $340 Garmin Zumo will do the trick.

Alternatively, there are plenty of cheap, rugged Android phones that you can buy and use as a dedicated GPS. If you’re not planning on using their other functionality, then you don’t have to worry about vibration damage. It won’t win any prizes for beauty or speed, but a Kyocera DuraForce Pro can be yours for under $100 if you shop around, and will work just fine as a dedicated motorbike GPS. 

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.