Apple interested in Sony’s next-gen 3D sensors for 2019 iPhone

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FaceID scan
2019's 3D scanning iPhone tech could get a whole lot better.
Photo: FaceScan app

Apple is reportedly interested in next-generation 3D sensor manufactured by Sony. These chips will power the next generation of front and rear-facing 3D cameras in multiple phones launching in 2019.

And it opens up some pretty exciting new applications in the process.

“Cameras revolutionized phones, and based on what I’ve seen, I have the same expectation for 3D,” says Satoshi Yoshihara, one of the managers who leads Sony’s work on sensors. “The pace will vary by field, but we’re definitely going to see adoption of 3D. I’m certain of it.”

Yoshihara doesn’t mention the other companies — in addition to Apple — interested in adopting Sony’s new sensors, although there are reportedly several.

Sony’s new sensor reportedly differs from Apple’s current TrueDepth 3D sensing technology by offering increased the accuracy over distance. The approach used by Sony is referred to as a “time of flight” method, in which laser pulses are sent out and then measured to see how long they will take to bounce back, similar to lidar in a self-driving car.

The upshot of this is that it can work for distances of up to five meters. This could widen the number of potential applications for 3D sensing tech. An article for Bloomberg Quint gives one possible illustration of how this could be used:

“During the interview, Sony showed several examples using a custom phone with a 3D camera on its rear. In one app, users made specific hand gestures to cast magic spells inside a virtual game. In another, the phone calculated the depth of the room and accurately displayed a virtual goldfish swimming in-front of and behind real-life objects.”

There is, of course, no guarantee that this tech makes it into the next-generation iPhones. However, it certainly sounds promising — as well as suggesting that the 2019-era iPhone might well include both rear and front-facing 3D depth-sensing cameras.