Apple’s Next-Gen iPhone May Feature Advanced 3D Cameras

It could hire Sony to take on the job.

Apple’s future iPhones could feature advanced 3D cameras, a Thursday report claims, as the smartphone maker shows increasing interest in new modules from Sony. The move, which has been previously rumored, would mean big changes for applications like augmented reality or capturing images in the “Portrait Mode” that mimics professional cameras.

The new chips use “time of flight” technology, similar to the lidar found in autonomous cars, where a laser shoots out to an object and bounces back, recording the distance in terms of the time it takes to return. Sony demonstrated the technology, which works up to five meters away, simulating magic spells shooting out of a user’s hand during a game. Satoshi Yoshihara, head of the firm’s sensor team with more than 10 years’ experience in smartphone cameras, told Bloomberg Quint: “Cameras revolutionized phones, and based on what I’ve seen, I have the same expectation for 3D…the pace will vary by field, but we’re definitely going to see adoption of 3D. I’m certain of it.”

The iPhone's camera could receive a big boost.
The iPhone's camera could receive a big boost.

See more: Apple’s Next iPad Could Get Game-Changing Camera Update

Apple currently uses a number of depth-sensing technologies in the iPhone. For Face ID, it projects an array of 30,000 infrared dots onto a user’s face to scan and authenticate, working similar to the Microsoft Kinect. With the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple took advantage of the dual camera system to blur the background of objects, calculating their distance by comparing the offset images. Apple has bigger plans for such tools, as its “ARKit” introduced with iOS 11 enables developers to easily make augmented reality apps similar to Snapchat and Pokémon GO.

Rumors of an Apple laser scanner date back several months. A July 2017 report claimed the company would use a rear-facing vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser, also known as a VCSEL, costing just $2 per device. A report in November 2017 also claimed Apple would use a laser scanner. Apple hosed two iPhone launches during this time, neither of which made reference to any future scanners, but in June 2017 CEO Tim Cook expressed his excitement about augmented reality, adding that it makes him “want to yell out and scream.”

If Apple is planning to boost its augmented reality features, it could explain more when it takes the stage at the annual Worldwide Developers’ Conference next summer.

Related video: Watch This Electric Fish Swim in an Augmented Reality Chamber for Science