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According to a DigiTimes report, Apple has asked one of its manufacturers to prepare components for rear Time-of-Flight (ToF) camera lenses in next year’s iPhone range.
Analysts such as Ming-Chi Kuo and Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman have previously said that Apple’s 2020 iPhones will come with laser-powered 3D ToF rear cameras that will substantially enhance the whole AR experience.
Vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) are a core component of the TrueDepth camera in the iPhone XS Max, XS and XR. They drive core features such as Animoji, Face ID and Portrait mode selfies, and also the proximity-sensing features of AirPods. A ToF camera system will, however, be a big step forward because it uses a more advanced laser.
TrueDepth makes use of a structured-light technique, which projects a pattern of around 30,000 laser dots on the user’s face. It then measures the distortion in order to produce a fairly accurate 3D image for authentication.
ToF, on the other hand, calculates how long it takes for the laser beams to bounce off surrounding objects in order to generate a 3D rendering of the environment. This improves depth perception and placement of virtual objects and reportedly produces improved depth capturing in photos.
According to Bloomberg, 2020 iPhones will come with a rear camera that can scan areas as far as 15 feet from the phone, compared to a maximum of 50cm in current models.
Apple reportedly has a two-year lead over competitors in the area of 3D sensing technology. In December 2017, it announced a $390m investment in Finisar Corp, which currently supplies it with VCSEL components. Another possible supplier could be Ams, a VCSEL chip manufacturer from Austria.
Kuo added that Apple is unlikely to add a 3D camera to its 2019 iPhones. Bloomberg recently confirmed that Apple had to delay plans for 3D rear cameras in this year’s iPhone range.