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Apple’s massive iPhone 12 upgrade to pack a ‘world-facing’ 3D camera

Published Mar 12th, 2020 8:30AM EDT
  • Apple’s new iPhone 12 lineup may be delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the new flagship phones are still expected to be released in 2020.
  • A number of leaks have shed plenty of light on Apple’s new iPhone 12 design, as well as several key specs and new features Apple is expected to introduce.
  • The latest rumor comes from Fast Company and reiterates numerous earlier reports that Apple’s higher-end iPhone 12 Pro phones will get a new 3D depth-sensing camera on the back.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Everything is up in the air right now when it comes to new product launches like Apple’s iPhone 12, which everyone would normally expect to be released this coming September. It’s entirely possible that the iPhone 12 series will still be unveiled in September, and it might even see a limited release that same month. But the novel coronavirus epidemic that is currently rocking the globe will affect the manufacture of countless products, consumer electronics included. The COVID-19 virus originated in China, and China continues to be the hardest-hit country in the world. China also happens to be where most consumer electronics are manufactured, and factories have obviously been impacted by the spread of the virus.

While the release timing of the iPhone 12 series is still a mystery, Apple’s iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro phones themselves aren’t quite as mysterious these days. A tremendous amount of information about the upcoming new iPhone 12 series has already leaked from reliable sources with solid track records, so we likely know plenty of accurate details about the devices. Now, a new leak from a source that has revealed accurate information about unreleased Apple devices in the past reiterates what may end up being one of the iPhone 12’s most exciting new camera features.

With Apple’s iPhone 12 design plans undoubtedly finalized at this point, a tremendous amount of new information has been hitting the rumor mill lately. Of course, the majority of what we know right now was already leaked a long time ago by none other than TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. He’s the most prolific Apple leaker and the most reliable source of inside info, and he has had plenty to say about the iPhone 12 series.

Image source: TF International Securities

According to Kuo, Apple plans to release not three but four new iPhone 12 models in 2020. Apple began releasing three new flagship iPhone models per year back in 2017, but this would be the first time the number climbed to four. The handsets will all feature a new design with flat metal edges like the iPhone 5 back in 2012, but they’ll all still have notches in the display instead of a true all-screen design like so many Android phones have this year.

Kuo has shared plenty of other details about the two iPhone 12 models and two iPhone 12 Pro models Apple reportedly has in development, but the latest info comes from a different source, xda-developers blogger Max Weinbach. In a huge recent iPhone 12 leak, Weinbach shared all sorts of info about the upcoming new iPhone models. Included in that info dump were details about the iPhone 12’s new rear camera setup. According to the leak, Apple plans to use a new 64-megapixel main camera sensor on the back along with two other cameras and a Time of Flight (ToF) sensor for 3D depth-sensing.

As you can see in Kuo’s graphic above, that wasn’t the first time we had heard the claim that Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro models will include ToF sensors. And now, a new report from Fast Company says the same thing. Here’s what the blog had to say:

At least one of this year’s iPhones will feature a 3D depth camera on its back, a source with knowledge confirms to Fast Company.

The camera—actually a laser, sensor, and software system—emits light to measure the distance between the phone and various objects and surfaces in front of it. This detailed depth information will enable new photo and video effects, as well as better augmented reality experiences.

iPhone engineers have been working on the rear-facing, or “world facing,” 3D camera for at least two years now. It’s been on a short list of possible feature additions for new iPhones, but until this year hasn’t made the cut. In truth, Apple could decide to nix it this year, too. For now, though, it’s in the design, which we’ll hopefully get to see for the first time this fall (if the coronavirus doesn’t get in the way of Apple’s plans).

Apple will buy the laser needed for the new 3D from San Jose-based Lumentum, the same company that currently supplies the laser for the iPhone’s front-facing 3D camera.

Several other smartphones already on the market have ToF sensors on the back. If we’ve learned anything at all about Apple though, it’s that the company is far more concerned about being “best” than being “first.” We can likely expect some innovative functionality from Apple’s implementation of the 3D depth sensor, and we can’t wait to see what it is.

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.