Smartphone makers tried to create phones capable of capturing 3D photos years ago, but the feature never caught on. But next year, a variety of new devices may feature 3D camera sensors from Sony, which could also be used to power other novel smartphone features rather than just capturing 3D content. Apple’s 2019 iPhones may be among those devices, a new report from Bloomberg says.
Sony is apparently boosting 3D camera output production, Bloomberg explains, with Apple being among the customers interested in its next-generation 3D sensors. These sensors will power both front- and rear-facing cameras on various smartphones, the report notes, with Sony set to step up mass production in late summer to meet demand.
The news comes straight from Sony’s Satoshi Yoshihara, the head of Sony’s sensor division, although the exec did not name any specific customers or sales and production targets. He confirmed that the 3D sensor business is operating profitably, and that it’s expected to make an impact on earnings during the fiscal year starting in April.
Sony’s sensors use a technology called “time of flight” (TOF) that sends out invisible laser beams and then measures how long they take to return. TOF cameras may be used to create advanced 3D models of objects that could be used in apps and augmented reality games. Other uses may include adding support for hand gestures to control certain apps or games:
During the interview, Sony showed several examples using a custom phone with a 3D camera on its rear. In one app, users made specific hand gestures to cast magic spells inside a virtual game. In another, the phone calculated the depth of the room and accurately displayed a virtual goldfish swimming in-front of and behind real-life objects.
Sony isn’t the only company working on 3D chips and sensors for phones. Companies like Lumentum and STMicroelectronics have been producing similar smartphone camera components that can be used for 3D facial recognition or improving focus by measuring the depth of field. The iPhone X, iPhone XS, and XS Max, iPhone XR, and 2018 iPad Pro all feature TrueDepth front-facing cameras that power facial recognition as well as 3D animated emoji.