Rear-facing 3D sensing technology possibly slated for fall 2019 iPhone, allowing Apple to press AR advantage

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With the iPhone X just three months out of the gate, and discussions about the 2018 iPhone refresh starting, eyes are starting to look at 2019, with new supply chain discussion by an investment analyst firm suggesting that Apple is now working on a world-facing 3D sensor to assert dominance in augmented reality.
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Rear-Facing 3D Laser Camera System Rumored for 2019 iPhones

Following the successful launch of its high-end and TrueDepth camera-equipped iPhone X, Apple has reportedly shifted its focus towards developing a next-generation 3D depth-sensing camera technology.

According to people familiar with the company’s plans who were cited in a Bloomberg report on Tuesday, not only will Apple’s new 3D camera tech be more advanced than the TrueDepth camera on iPhone X, but it will bring a wide range of Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities exclusively to the rear-facing camera system on all of its iPhone models due out in 2019.

“Apple is evaluating a different technology from the one it currently uses in the TrueDepth sensor system on the front of the iPhone X,” sources say, while going on to describe how Apple’s existing TrueDepth system “relies on a structured-light technique that projects a pattern of 30,000 laser dots onto a user’s face and measures the distortion to generate an accurate 3D image for authentication.” Whereas the next-generation 3D laser technology that Apple is planning for the rear-facing camera of future iPhone models will instead rely on a “time-of-flight approach,” which is designed to “calculate the time it takes for a laser to bounce off surrounding objects to create a three-dimensional picture of the environment.”

Sources went on to confirm that Apple will retain its current, Face ID-assisted TrueDepth camera on the front-side of its future iPhone models — at least for the foreseeable future, according to KGI Securities analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, who previously noted how the iPhone-maker’s inherent technology is years ahead of its closest competition. And so this new and highly-advanced 3D laser system, which will reportedly be the “next step forward” in regards to turning iPhone into a leading AR device, will be implemented into the handset’s rear-facing camera module so as to bring these capabilities to both sides of iPhone for the first time.

What’s interesting about this report is that it would appear Apple is rushing right along with its plans, thinking way ahead into the future and, perhaps, not considering the many challenges it faced when producing its 3D camera sensors. Indeed, multiple reports have converged around the fact that Apple has had trouble manufacturing TrueDepth components from the get-go, mainly due to the precision accuracy required in their fabrication, which has resulted in much lower-than-expected yield rates.

Fortunately, sources say, while this new “time-of-flight” 3D camera technology is much more advanced than Apple’s current TrueDepth tech, it reportedly does not require the same level of precision in its procurement, which means that yield rates are likely to be much higher in comparison.

Of course, as with all rumors pertaining to Apple, we highly recommend taking this one with a grain of salt, too, especially since even Bloomberg’s sources admit the company could ultimately scrap its plans at any time.

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iPhone Lineup Won’t Feature Rear-Facing TrueDepth Next Year

Apple isn’t likely to add its TrueDepth Camera technology to the iPhone’s rear-facing camera next year, according to an analyst report on Tuesday.

The TrueDepth system, which is based on infrared sensing and 3D depth mapping technology, enables features such as Face ID and Apple’s new Animoji for the iPhone X’s front-facing, selfie camera. But despite its added benefits, Apple is unlikely to apply the new system to rear-facing cameras on 2018 iPhones, renowned Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted.

“Based on aforementioned assumptions, we do not expect 2H18F iPhones to come with rear TrueDepth Camera/3D sensing, contrary to market expectations,” Kuo wrote in a KGI Securities research note distributed to clients Tuesday.

Despite his forecast, Kuo added that KGI can “agree that a rear TrueDepth Camera/3D sensing can potentially provide more augmented reality (AR applications.” The analyst went on to state that Apple needs to “quickly” resolve two issues if it wants rear-facing TrueDepth, namely:

  1. Fostering the development of both AI and ARKit software and apps, and an AR ecosystem. All of which takes time.
  2. Stabilizing shipments and on-time shipping, both of which are challenging due to the “higher spec requirements of a rear TrueDepth camera.”

Presumably, the complexity of manufacturing and assembling the TrueDepth system could also halt its inclusion within the rear-facing camera system. Its components are complicated and incredibly fragile, and those issues are part of why the iPhone X is both a bit late and in short supply this year, reports indicate.

Kuo did add that, since TrueDepth is years ahead of the company’s Android competition, Apple’s main focus for next year’s iPhones will probably be an on-time launch and an adequate supply of devices. Even without rear-facing TrueDepth, Kuo said that Apple will, unsurprisingly, add other upgrade tech and specifications to next year’s stable of iPhones.

Previous reports suggest that front-facing TrueDepth will be included on all of next year’s iPhone models, as well as the 2018 iPad Pro lineup.

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iPhone 8 Expected Add Rear-Facing 3D Laser, But Apple Should Act Fast

Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8 will feature an advanced rear-facing camera system, which according to a report published earlier this week by Fast Company, could potentially boast an embedded 3D laser module to enable better depth detection for Augmented Reality (AR) applications. This rear-facing laser, known as a Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser (VCSEL), will in theory enable the high-end iPhone 8 to carry out “faster and more accurate depth measurements,” as well as much quicker autofocusing when capturing photographs.

“VCSEL laser systems calculate the distance the light travels from the laser to the target and back to the sensor, and generate a Time of Flight (TOF) measurement,” the source indicated, while adding that “The system consists of a source (the VCSEL laser), a lens, detector (sensor), and a processor.”

While Fast Company’s sources indicated that the rear-facing VCSEL is “probably intended” for the upcoming iPhone 8, which could also be called the iPhone Edition or iPhone X, its inclusion is ultimately contingent upon Apple’s progress in resolving all those issues currently plaguing production of the device. So while it’s more than likely going to make its way onto the high-end handset, the fate of this super-advanced VCSEL has ultimately fallen into the lap of Apple’s engineering team.

This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard about the VCSEL, and specifically that it would debut as a feature on the iPhone 8. Just weeks ago, a report from LoupVentures cited two firms — Finisar and Lumentum — as component suppliers who would be providing Apple with VCSELs for its revolutionary front-facing 3D camera system. According to KGI Securities analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, the iPhone 8’s front-facing camera will boast advanced facial recognition capabilities, which could potentially take the place of Touch ID in light of Apple’s struggle implementing the fingerprint scanner underneath the iPhone 8’s ultra thin-bezeled, edge-to-edge OLED display.

On the bright side: Fast Company noted that the rear-facing VCSEL will cost Cupertino just $ 2 per iPhone (not including the additional, front-facing VCSEL) — and so all we can really do is hope that Apple’s engineering team is able to figure everything out in time for the handset’s anticipated September debut.

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