The rear camera on the back of iPads has always seemed a bit extra. You can make a case that’s it’s helpful for scanning documents, but in almost every other case people will always opt for their phone before their tablet when it comes to taking pictures. It makes sense then that Apple might be reinventing would be looking for ways to reinvent the iPad’s camera to give it a more compelling purpose.
Apple may be able to deliver on this reinvention as soon as next year. That’s because a new rumor indicates that next year’s iPads will be able to create three-dimensional images by simply pointing its camera at an object. This would bring a host of new augmented reality and design capabilities that would perfectly suit how Apple markets its tablets. The feature has been tentatively dubbed “Time of Fly” (ToF) and could ship as early as 2019, according to a note by reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo acquired by 9to5Mac.
ToF would be enabled by repurposing the iPhone’s front-facing TrueDepth camera system, which enables Face ID, to the iPad’s rear panel. Face ID essentially creates a 3D model of users’ faces by using an infrared camera and a dot projector. Apple could extrapolate this functionality to work on other things other than faces with some software tweaks.
Kuo stated that ToF might even make it into iPhones by the year 2020, though he forecasts it’ll come with the tablets first in either late 2019 or early 2020. This prediction lines up with similar reports by Bloomberg saying the company was moving towards implementing rear-facing 3D sensors.
During Apple’s October product launch, company executives touted the AR and virtual design capabilities of its new iPad Pro’s. ToF seems like a natural progression from this kind of branding.
If the tablet does gain the ability to generate 3D models using its camera, it would save architects and visual artist hours of work. Instead of having to draw a model from scratch, they could generate one and make tweaks. AR artists could render figures in minutes instead of painstakingly making them all by hand.
In short, the iPad would let designers capture the real-world, digitize it, and let them reimagine it. That camera wouldn’t seem so ‘extra’ then.