Apple's iPhone 12 will take AR to the next level with 'world-facing' 3D camera


While it remains unclear if Apple will ultimately be able to stick to a traditional release schedule for the iPhone 12 family or if a serious delay is on the cards, key details about the company's next high-end handsets keep trickling in thanks to generally reliable rumormongers, reputable analysts, and various unnamed inside sources.

The latest information "confirmed" by a Fast Company contact "with knowledge" on the matter is actually something that's been speculated since before the iPhone 11 lineup saw daylight. It's also something that the Cupertino-based tech giant has reportedly been working on for at least a couple of years, with the aim of eventually expanding the impressive capabilities of the front-facing TrueDepth camera system introduced with the iPhone X way back in 2017. 

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We're talking about a second 3D depth sensor, although this one would naturally be located on the rear of the next-gen "iDevices", enabling a bunch of neat augmented reality experiences to further blur the lines between the actual world surrounding a user and the rapidly expanding AR universe.

Samsung did it first

Technically, that's not true, as the Honor View 20, for instance, made its debut almost a whole year before the Galaxy Note 10+ came with a quad rear-facing camera setup including a 3D depth sensor last fall. But you could definitely argue Samsung popularized the feature, expanding it to the Galaxy S20+ and S20 Ultra recently ahead of Apple's first move in this trendy space.

Then again, we can't really say Samsung is making much of an effort to promote this as a key selling point for any of the three aforementioned high-end devices. The main reason why that seems to be the case is the limited number of real-world scenarios in which the average user is likely to find the "DepthVision" camera the least bit practical. 

That's where Apple is expected to come in, working on finding "novel ways to leverage the technology for new user experiences", which should also be branded and marketed in a "more showy" way. Unfortunately, we don't know a great deal about the actual AR apps and experiences the company might be preparing to unveil alongside the iPhone 12 series in September (or several months later, if the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread).

How many iPhone 12 variants will get it?

To try to answer that question, we first need to settle on a total number of main models tipped for a late 2020 release. Depending on whom you ask, that ranges from four to six, but either way, we're pretty certain the non-Pro iPhone 12 will come with only two rear-facing shooters.

Meanwhile, there's a decent chance the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max will be sharing a state-of-the-art quad camera system including, among others, a 64MP telephoto lens with enhanced zoom capabilities and this "world-facing" 3D sensor. Another theory calls for a triple lens iPhone 12 Pro and a fourth sensor mounted on the back of the 12 Pro Max only, which... is also possible.


Also known as a Time-of-Flight (ToF) camera, the latter component will combine a laser, sensor, and software system to improve portrait quality by "more accurately distinguishing between foreground and background layers" when applying the so-called bokeh effects, as well as (hopefully) taking AR to the next level.

In a nutshell, a 3D depth camera system beams light to precisely measure the distance between a phone and objects or surfaces in its field of view, allowing users to interact with and manipulate this space in fun and occasionally convenient ways. Samsung, for instance, has a Quick Measure tool that can help you ensure a piece of furniture fits in a certain space, while the Ikea Place app for Android and iOS takes that concept up a notch by virtually "placing" the store's products in your house without even requiring a ToF sensor. 

Clearly, Apple has been working on more than the hardware aspect of this groundbreaking technology all these years, so you can definitely expect a deluge of augmented reality experiences announced together with the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.

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