Apple could be experimenting with 3D cameras for the next iteration of iPhones, a new report from Bloomberg suggests.
Sony, perhaps the most significant manufacturer of camera lenses for mobile phones, is allegedly ramping up production of next-generation 3D sensors because a number of companies are ordering them, including Apple.
Bloomberg says the chips in question will power both front- and rear-facing 3D cameras of smartphones from a bunch of OEMs in 2019. Sony will be kicking off mass production in late summer to meet demand, according to Sony's sensor division head Satoshi Yoshihara. He didn't offer details on sales or production targets but stated the 3D business is already operating profitably and will make an impact on earnings from the fiscal year starting in April.
If what Yoshihara says is true, then it's safe to assume a lot of manufacturers will come out with phones rocking 3D cameras in one form or another next year. Apple's plans are not clear at the moment, but chances are the next iteration of iPhones will likely include Sony's 3D sensors.
Sony's 3D Sensors
The Sony-made sensors use a technology called "Time of Flight," which sends invisible laser beams and then measure how long they take to return. TOF cameras can have a number of implementations, but the one the makes the most sense in the context of smartphones is the ability to create advanced 3D models of objects, which could then be integrated into apps and games, particularly one powered by augmented reality.
Per Bloomberg, Sony demonstrated this technology using an unspecified smartphone with a 3D camera on the back. In one app, users made specific hand gestures to cast magic spells inside a virtual game. In another app, the camera was able to calculate the depth of the room, after which it displayed a virtual goldfish swimming in front of and behind real-world objects.
3D Cameras On The Next iPhone
Whether TOF cameras are the next big thing or just a novelty is ripe for discussion, but anything that propels the smartphone industry forward deserves merit. If Apple is indeed experimenting with Sony's 3D sensors and decides to put it on the next iPhone, expect the feature to become mainstream — similar to when manufacturers started copying the iPhone X's notch design.
"Cameras revolutionized phones, and based on what I've seen, I have the same expectation for 3D," said Yoshihara. He's sure 3D will be the next big thing in smartphones. "The pace will vary by field, but we're definitely going to see adoption of 3D. I'm certain of it."