At Least One 2020 iPhone to Feature Laser-Powered Time-of-Flight 3D Rear Camera: REPORT

Apple is apparently planning to further beef up the strength of the camera unit on the back of its next iPhone.

A new report from Fast Company explains that a laser-powered time-of-flight (ToF) 3D rear camera will feature on at least one of Apple’s upcoming 2020 iPhone handsets. The new camera would bring significant improvements in augmented reality and photos.

According to the report:

At least one of this year’s iPhones will feature a 3D depth camera on its back, a source with knowledge confirms to Fast Company.

The camera—actually a laser, sensor, and software system—emits light to measure the distance between the phone and various objects and surfaces in front of it. This detailed depth information will enable new photo and video effects, as well as better augmented reality experiences.

iPhone engineers have been working on the rear-facing, or “world facing,” 3D camera for at least two years now. It’s been on a short list of possible feature additions for new iPhones, but until this year hasn’t made the cut. In truth, Apple could decide to nix it this year, too. For now, though, it’s in the design, which we’ll hopefully get to see for the first time this fall (if the coronavirus doesn’t get in the way of Apple’s plans).

Fast Company says Apple has elected San Jose-based Lumentum to supply the VCSEL lasers that will power the “world-facing” 3D depth sensor in “at least one of this year’s iPhones.”

VCSELs, or vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, have been a key part of Apple’s TrueDepth camera since the release of the iPhone X in 2017, powering features such as Face ID, Animoji, Portrait mode selfies, and other features. A ToF camera system would be a major step up from TrueDepth thanks to its more advanced use of a laser.

So far, we have seen plenty of flagship Android smartphones launch with a ToF sensor at the rear but they have not really been used to deliver meaningful AR experiences. Apple could use the 3D sensor on the 2020 iPhone for offering a better bokeh effect in photos and could also bring the Portrait mode feature to videos, a feature that we are now seeing in quite a few Android devices.

Previously, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo had claimed that at least two iPhones would feature a time-of-flight camera. The feature is also rumoured to be making its way to the iPad Pro. Time-of-flight tech uses lasers to scan objects in the frame to create an accurate 3D picture of the shot and has useful implementations for AR.

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