A report from Bloomberg indicates that Apple is planning to launch iPhones in 2020 with a more powerful 3-D camera to support the company’s push into augmented reality, according to people familiar with the plans.
The rear-facing, longer-range 3-D camera is designed to scan the environment to create three-dimensional reconstructions of the real world. It will work up to about 15 feet from the device, the people said. That’s in contrast with the current iPhone 3-D camera system, which points toward users and operates at distances of 25 to 50 centimeters to power Apple’s Face ID facial-recognition feature.
Apple’s new system uses a laser scanner, rather than the existing dot-projection technology which doesn’t work as well over longer distances, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unreleased features. That’s just one of many new features — including a third, more advanced camera, enhanced photo-capture tools and a more powerful chip — that Apple plans to include in coming generations of iPhones, the people said.
The laser-powered 3-D camera would enhance augmented reality on the iPhone, allowing for more accurate depth perception and placement of virtual objects. It could also help the handset take photos that can better capture depth, the people said. Apple has been in talks with Sony Corp. about testing sensors for the new system, one of the people said.
While virtual reality immerses the user in a digital realm, AR overlays visuals and data onto a view of the real world. Use cases include looking at a building and displaying details of the structure beside the image, or listing repair instructions for a mechanic while she works on a defective machine. It’s been touted as having wider mass-market appeal than VR, and Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has talked up its prospects.
The 2020 iPhone camera may be a prelude to an AR headset that Apple has been preparing for as early as 2020. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the company’s plans, which could change.
Apple previously aimed to put the new 3-D camera system on the back of this year’s high-end iPhones, but delayed that, the people familiar also said. Still, the Cupertino, California-based technology giant is doubling down on camera capabilities for its handsets.
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