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Apple has gained a two-year lead over its rivals in the smartphone industry in the area of 3D sensing technology, according to a new report on Tuesday.
Following talks with three major parts suppliers, Reuters estimates that Android phone makers will have to wait until 2019 to duplicate the 3D sensing feature behind Apple’s Face ID security, which debuted last year in the iPhone X.
According to parts manufacturers Viavi Solutions Inc, Finisar Corp and Ams AG, bottlenecks on key parts will mean mass adoption of 3D sensing will not happen until next year, disappointing earlier expectations.
That means that China’s Huawei, Xiaomi and others could be a total of almost two years behind Apple, which launched Face ID with its iPhone X anniversary phone last September.
Android producers are reportedly struggling to source vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, or VCSELs, a key component of Apple’s TrueDepth camera that the company moved to secure supplies of last year. In December, Apple said it planned to invest $390 million in Finisar Corp, which supplies the components for VCSELs.
Apple said the investment would enable Finisar to exponentially increase its R&D spending and high-volume production of VCSELs, which power some of the iPhone’s X flagship features, such as Face ID, Animoji and Portrait mode selfies, as well as the proximity-sensing capabilities of AirPods.
According to Reuters‘ sources, Apple was initially sourcing VCSELs chiefly from California-based Lumentum, and it was bottlenecks in production there last year that also spurred the $390 million deal with Finisar.
Meanwhile, Lumentum, which declined to comment on the report, is ramping up additional manufacturing capacity for VCSELs and edge-emitting lasers for the first half of fiscal 2019, according to the company’s earnings call.
Another producer, Austria-based Ams, also expects to have VCSEL chips widely available next year and says it has won a large deal with one phone maker.
Viavi, the only major supplier of optical filters needed for the 3D sensing modules, believes only one Android handset maker will deliver 3D sensing by the end of the calendar year, but volumes are likely to be very low. The company expects at least two more Android-based phones to follow that trend in 2019.
According to a report in October by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, inquiries by Android smartphone vendors into 3D-sensing technologies tripled after Apple unveiled its TrueDepth camera and Face ID technology, which will likely replace traditional Touch ID fingerprint recognition in future iOS devices.
Apple is reportedly working on a new high-end 2018 iPad that will adopt many of the design elements from the revamped iPhone X, including built-in support for Face ID. The new tablet device, which is likely to be a “Pro” model, will reportedly do away with the Home button.
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