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Apple just made a big move that could take next-gen iPhone cameras to the next level

Updated Apr 15th, 2015 6:26PM EDT
Apple LinX Acquisition iPhone Cameras

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Apple today confirmed to the Wall Street Journal its $20 million acquisition of LinX Computational Imaging, a company with some incredible camera technology. Based out of Israel, LinX manufactures miniature cameras which boast of superior camera performance in a number of different areas, including low light situations, shutter lag, color fidelity, and more.

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On its own website, LinX notes that its cameras, while being smaller than anything on the market today, are “leading the way to DSLR performance in slim handsets.” What’s more, LinX technology can purported capture a number of images at the same time and, via the implementation of proprietary algorithms, create three-dimensional image maps.

Apple, as opposed to 90s-era Microsoft, is very judicious when it comes to acquiring companies. When it does pull the trigger, it’s typically because they plan to incorporate its newly acquired technology into either existing or new products. That being the case, it stands to reason that future iPhone cameras, for as great as they are now, are poised to get even better.

Indeed, Apple over the past few years has devoted an absolutely huge amount of engineering resources towards improving iPhone picture quality. The acquisition of LinX, therefore, is simply the latest step Apple is taking to ensure that it’s camera quality remains best in class.

A LinX presentation from this past summer highlighted all of the LinX’s competitive advantages:

Our technology introduces many advantages over traditional mobile photography:

  • A larger sensor requires a longer lens. Therefore, by replacing one large sensor with two or more smaller ones, we reduced the height of our device by a factor of 1.4 to 2
  • Sensitivity to light increases by a factor of 3 by using a monochrome sensor
  • Noise levels are dramatically lower
  • The effective array camera resolution is similar to the single aperture camera in high light
  • Performance and image quality in low light are extraordinary
  • Allowing a fast exposure at indoor standard lighting conditions of 100-200 lux which assures crisp images free from motion blur
  • The multi-aperture camera creates a real-time, high-quality distance map
  • Multi-aperture LinX products open the door for real-time applications that use images and distance maps together, such as:
  • Automatic background removal
  • Refocusing
  • High-quality control of autofocus in video mode when one of the cameras is equipped with autofocus (range finder camera)
  • Augmented reality
  • 3D object modeling
  • Distance and Sizing of objects
  • Biometric 3D face recognition

It remains to be seen if any of these features make their way into the next-gen iPhone, but some of them are bound to end up on future iterations of the iPhone sometime down the line.

Speaking of iPhone cameras, it’s worth referencing that John Gruber of Daring Fireball mentioned, during a November podcast, that Apple’s next-gen iPhone will represent the biggest jump in iPhone camera quality yet.

“I don’t even know what sense this makes,” Gruber said, “but I’ve heard that it’s some kind of weird two-lens system where the back camera uses two lenses and it somehow takes it up into DSLR quality imagery.”

While that’s certainly a bold claim that should be digested with a requisite grain of salt, there’s no denying that Apple has long sought to differentiate the iPhone from the pack via superior photography capabilities. With LinX now under the Apple umbrella, we can only imagine that iPhone camera quality still has a lot of room for growth and improvement.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.