Tech

Apple is working on phone cameras that use lasers to sense how far away objects are, top analyst says

Key Points
  • Apple is working on iPhones, expected to launch in 2020, with rear cameras that will be able to sense how far away things are for better pictures.
  • Two iPhone models will include the ToF sensor feature, Kuo wrote, suggesting that the lower-cost iPhone option launching in 2020 won't have it.
  • Kuo's research suggests that Apple's 2020 lineup will have more significant changes than the ones expected for this year.
Apple iPhones are seen on display at an Apple Store on January 7, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Kevin Frayer | Getty Images

Apple is working on iPhones for 2020 with rear cameras that can sense how far away things are, according to TF Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

The cameras will include a new sensor, called "ToF," or time of flight, to let the iPhone better "see" the world around it, enabling augmented reality, or AR, experiences and better computer vision, according to the note distributed on Monday.

These sensors use a part called "VCSEL," or vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser, which generates an invisible laser that bounces off objects, letting the phone accurately measure how far away the objects are. Apple's front-facing Face ID camera currently uses a ToF sensor as part of the phone's unlocking system.

Two iPhone models will include the ToF feature, Kuo wrote, suggesting that the lower-cost iPhone option launching in 2020 won't have it.

"We predict that three new 2H20 iPhone models will all be equipped with front Face ID, and two of the new models will provide rear ToF. We estimate that shipments of iPhone models equipped with front and rear VCSEL (front structure light and rear ToF) will be 45mn units in 2020," Kuo wrote.

The sensor could "mainly improve the photo quality and offer AR applications," Kuo continued. He sees the feature as a key distinguishing selling point for high-end phones.

Huawei smartphones will also adopt the ToF sensor, Kuo wrote.

In another note published over the weekend, Kuo predicted that Apple's 2020 iPhones will all support 5G networks. He's also predicted that the 2020 iPhone lineup will be composed of three phones, one with a 6.7-inch screen, one a 6.1-inch screen and one a 5.4-inch screen, suggesting that Apple's 2020 lineup will be a bigger refresh than the iPhones it's expected to launch in 2019.

VIDEO5:4805:48
Apple sell-off driven by 'more of the same' from iPhones, says analyst