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Apple might need Samsung for a big iPhone camera upgrade

Published Dec 1st, 2020 6:50AM EST
Image: Apple

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  • New reports say Apple is working on a big iPhone camera upgrade that might depend on key technology from Samsung, its biggest rival and business partner.
  • Apple is reportedly shopping for periscope cameras that would significantly increase the zoom capabilities of the iPhone.
  • It’s unclear whether the iPhone 13 will deliver this tech, with an insider having previously said that Apple is eying 2022 for the camera zoom upgrade.

The newest iPhone is one of the best cameras you can buy this year, although it’s not the only great camera experience that fits in your pocket. The Pixel 5, Galaxy S20/Note 20, and the latest Huawei flagships (if you can find them) also offer high-end photography features. We’ve seen plenty of camera reviews for each phone that highlight the strengths and weaknesses of their multi-lens camera systems, and it’s ultimately a matter of personal preference on what sort of camera phone to purchase. What’s clear is that each new handset generation will deliver new camera upgrades, both in the hardware and software departments. A series of reports claim that Apple is already shopping for a major iPhone camera improvements and might need Samsung to get it done.

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Chinese smartphone maker Oppo was among the first companies to demo periscope cameras for handsets. Huawei is also known for placing periscope cameras on flagship phones. And Samsung brought the tech to its Galaxy S20 Ultra last year.

Periscope cameras allow smartphone vendors to improve the optical zoom significantly on the phone without increasing its thickness. The lenses and sensor are placed horizontally inside the phone in a periscope setup, and the light bounces at 90 degrees via a prism. The distance between the lenses and the sensor is increased without increasing the phone’s thickness, and the optical zoom is significantly improved as a result.

Korean site ETNews says that Apple has begun looking for suppliers for “folded cameras,” another name used for periscope cameras. But there’s a limited number of suppliers that manufacture these cameras, including Samsung Electro-Mechanics.

Samsung might be Apple’s biggest rival, but that never stopped the iPhone maker from buying the required parts from the Korean giant. The OLED screens that Samsung Display manufactures are the best in the industry, and they’ve been used for the iPhone since the 2017 iPhone X.

But it so happens that Samsung holds a key patent for manufacturing folded camera. “Ball-type actuator is the key to folded camera, and patents related to the actuator are in possession of Corephotonics that was recently acquired by Samsung Electronics,” an official from the camera module industry told The Elec. “It is heard that Apple is not able to easily design folded camera structure due to patent issues.”

As MacRumors points out, Apple has its own periscope camera patents dating back to 2014. But Apple might still need Samsung’s newly acquired tech to place a folded camera inside the iPhone 13 or iPhone 14. The Elec points out that some in the industry believe that Samsung might choose to refuse a deal with Apple to give the Galaxy S an edge over the iPhone.

Separately, Digitimes also reported (via The Next Web) that Apple is looking to improve the iPhone’s zooming abilities. The report says that Apple is looking to a deal with Samsung for a periscope lens.

While Samsung could always refuse Apple, supplying parts to the company might still be lucrative. After all, Apple would sell more iPhones with periscope cameras than Samsung. And people will keep buying iPhones even if they don’t come with periscope cameras. Nobody stopped getting iPhones just because Huawei introduced periscope cameras. And that was at a time when Huawei was still able to sell handsets that people wanted to buy.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo correctly predicted that the iPhone 12 Pro Max would have sensor-shift stabilization tech. This year, he said that at least one 2022 iPhone model would have a periscope telephoto lens, with Semco and Sunny Optical supplying components.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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