iPhone could get depth-sensing rear cameras in 2020

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camera sales
Expect a big camera upgrade next year.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple is reportedly working to bring a 3D sensing camera system to the rear cameras in future iPhones. This would be similar to TrueDepth front-facing camera in current iPhones.

It would join other advances like 5G capability and all-OLED screens in next year’s iPhone refresh.

Digitimes shared the news. In a paywalled article, it reports that Apple has “asked its supply chain partner to supply VCSEL components for use in rear ToF camera lens in its mobile devices.”

This could theoretically mean that the setup would be available for iPad as well. However, I’d expect that to follow in later iterations. Apple typically debuts many of its new mobile features as selling points for the iPhone. It then rolls these out to other devices at a later date.

On the other hand, respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo from TF International Securities predicted last fall that Apple’s ToF tech would debut first in an iPad. It won’t appear in an iPhone until later. This would seem to indicate Apple sees tablets as a better venue for AR.

VCSEL stand for Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser. It is one of the chief ways to carry out 3D sensing for object recognition or to capture depth data in an image using a device’s camera. VCSEL does this using extremely focused infrared light.

Upgrading the rear cameras

While Apple using its depth-sensing tech for front-facing features like Face ID, incorporating rear camera 3D sensing tech for iPhones could also be beneficial. That’s particularly true given Apple’s push to embrace augmented reality.

The current crop of ARKit apps shows that the tech can work with the existing rear camera capabilities of the iPhone. However, better 3D sensing could make this more accurate and fine-grained.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about 3D sensing tech coming to the iPhone’s rear camera. A report earlier this year said that this would allow users to scan their environment to create reconstructions of the real world.