Apple induces motion sickness with iOS 7

November 25, 2013
Whitney Hauser, OD

Dr. Whitney Hauser received her Doctor of Optometry degree in 2001 from Southern College of Optometry, where she completed a postgraduate residency in primary care optometry. Dr. Hauser is a member of the American Optometric Association, Tennessee Associa

Apple claimed that iOS7 makes the things you do every day even easier, faster, and more enjoyable. Shortly after many iPhone users downloaded the new platform, they did not report a more enjoyable experience. In fact, they reported dizziness, headaches and nausea.

As of May 2013, 56% of American adults have a smartphone. That represents over 170 million people. Of those cell phone owners, 44% report having slept with their phone next to their bed for fear of missing a call or text message during the night, and 29% describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without.” Smartphone ownership has increased by 20% over the last 2 years.¹

Pervasive use of smart devices doesn’t present without challenges. A smart phone is great for making restaurant reservations, checking the weather and connecting with friends on social media. Yet, they have also been blamed for increased anxiety, acne, back and neck pain, sleep problems, car accidents, and even brain cancer.²

Enter iOS 7. With much fanfare, Apple released its latest software upgrade in September. Apple claimed that iOS7 makes the things you do every day even easier, faster, and more enjoyable.³ Shortly after many iPhone users downloaded the new platform, they did not report a more enjoyable experience. In fact, they reported dizziness, headaches and nausea.4


So, how can a smart phone make someone sick? Motion sickness. Motion sickness is caused by a conflict between what is visualized vs. what is perceived by the vestibular system, a complex group of nerves and fluid-filled membranes that provide the individual with a sense of gravity and motion.5 Motion sickness can present in three distinct forms. Normal motion sickness is caused when motion is felt but not visualized (commonly, car-sickness or sea-sickness). Simulation sickness, or visually induced motion sickness (VIMS), is perceived when motion is seen but not felt (commonly with high-speed video games or virtual reality). The final type of motion sickness is a combined form.6,7

The dispute between the two systems causes symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and in some cases vomiting. The area postrema (AP) located on the medulla oblongata at the caudal end of the fourth ventricle has been identified as a chemoreceptor trigger for vomiting.8 The AP is triggered because the brain believes that it is hallucinating during the conflict between the visual world and the motion felt. Vomiting has developed through adaptation evolution as a form of self-preservation. For example, someone eats poisonous berries, and hallucinates. The body vomits to eliminate the offending agent.5 The brain cannot distinguish between poisonous berries and simulation sickness induced by iOS 7 software.

Apple whiz kids make the brain hallucinate by using the parallax effect. Parallax is the observable position of an object at any given distance dependent on the viewpoint of the viewer. Normally, the human visual system employs parallax to quickly assess distances between objects in space providing depth cues.9 Parallax scrolling is used in graphics and animation as early as the 1940s to simulate motion against a background.10. Apple upped the ante with its iOS 7 software upgrade by incorporating layers of parallax that respond to the iPhone’s internal micro-electro-mechanical (MEM) gyroscope. The gyroscope measures angular velocity. Originally used in navigation of ships, aircraft, and aeronautics, smart devices exploit the modern nanotechnology gyroscopes to orient the phone or tablet in space. The internal gyroscope, smaller than a human hair, can perceive rotation along three axes. The gyroscope works in concert with an accelerometer to determine the device’s relative position in space. The software then uses layered parallax to organize data on a series of planes that move relative to one another. This provided the snazzy 3-D motion effect.9

The perceived motion is an amusing innovation for some users, but others find it to be troublesome at best and nauseating at worst. The good news is that there’s an easy fix. To disable the parallax effect, go to “Settings” and choose “General,” followed by “Accessibility.” Scroll down to “Reduce Motion” and toggle from OFF to ON. The parallax effect will be minimized but not eliminated.11 This adjustment will likely provide more enjoyable iPhone for the motion sickness sufferer.ODT


1. Smith A. Smartphone Ownership 2013. Pew Internet. Accessed 10/6/13.

2. Schwecheral L. The 19 worst tech-related health risks. Greatist. 1/31/12. Accessed 10/6/13.

3. Apple. IOS 7. Accessed 10/6/13.

4. Sharp A. The rise of digital motion sickness: Video games, 3D films and iOS7 set to make condition the 21st century’s biggest occupational disease. Mail Online. 9/28/13. Accessed 10/6/13.

5. Takahashi M, Ogata M, Miura M. The significance of motion sickness in the vestibular system. J Vestib Res. 1997 Mar-Jun;7(2-3):179-87.

6. Crampton GH. Motion and Space Sickness. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1990, 2-7.

7. So RH, Ujike H. Visually induced motion sickness, visual stress and photosensitive epileptic seizures: what do they have in common? - preface to the special issue. Appl Ergon. 2010 Jul;41(4):491-3.

8. Miller AD, Leslie RA. The area postrema and vomiting. Front Neuroendocrinol. 1994 Dec;15(4):301-20.

9. Tabini, M. Inside the technology behind iOS 7’s parallax effect. Macworld. 6/26/13. Accessed 10/6/13.

10. Boudreaux R. TechRepublic. 4/24/12. Accessed 10/6/13.

11. LeFebrve R. Disable the Parallax Effect in iOS 7. Cult of Mac. 7/16/13. Accessed 10/6/13.  

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