iPhone 14 shows Apple will perfect every single component rather than bet on miracle solutions
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Time flies and you might not even realize it, but we are just three months away from the iPhone 14 series that are expected to launch in September 2022.
Apple is preparing to launch four iPhone 14 models, replacing the mini model with a Max-sized iPhone, while keeping the other three versions intact.
And while the list of new features is quite long, there is one leaked upgrade that we keep on hearing that was a bit of a surprise for me: a brand new front camera shared across all four new models.
Why is it surprising? Well, for starters, the camera on the iPhone is already quite good, but also we are constantly hearing news about Android phone makers switching to front cameras hidden under the screen aka completely invisible, while Apple just... doubles down on a traditional front camera? "Boring!" I can almost hear the crowds yell. And also out of tune with the rest of the industry that is moving us towards the future, right? Not only that, this new front camera shapes up to be the most expensive one ever used on an iPhone!
So what is this move all about? And what does it tell us about Apple? Let's try to understand by looking at the...
iPhone Front Camera evolution
I had completely forgotten that the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s had a... pathetic 0.3MP front camera! VGA?! Times were different.
But that's not even the worst part: the iPhone 3GS and earlier models did not even have a front camera at all! Now, it has become such an essential smartphone element it's hard to imagine phone just a decade ago... did not even have one!
And as you can see, we have seen quite the evolution in those iPhone front cameras. We started with a mediocre 1.2MP selfie shooter on the iPhone 6 (720p video only) to the new 12MP front shooter used since the iPhone 11 (with sweet 4K video).
So what's next? 8K on the selfie cam? It's possible, but that sounds like an overkill.
Why front cameras matter
At the same time, we have to realize that front cameras matter. There is still this sentiment from the past that front cameras are just for vain selfies and you should almost feel kind of guilty for using them. But the reality is different: for a big number of people front cameras are essential.
TikTokers, YouTubers, even a simple video call... On a recent hike, I vlogged exclusively on the front camera of the iPhone 13 Pro and appreciated having Cinematic Mode support for the front camera, which turned that footage into something that looked almost as if it was captured on a full-sized DSLR with nice creamy bokeh.
Not just that, a front camera is obviously essential for video conferencing, and we all know how important is that when working from home.
Like it or not, the front camera is growing more and more important, and is getting more use than ever, and it only makes sense for Apple to invest in making it better.
So what do we know about the new iPhone 14 front camera?
We know it's going to cost Apple quite a bit more... up to three times more, if you care about specifics! This is a big increase in cost, so much so that some claim that Apple now internally categorizes this system as a "high-end" component!
Apple allegedly picked Korean company LG Innotek to supply the new camera along with Sharp from Japan. The reason for the switch to a Korean manufacturer from previous Chinese suppliers is precisely because of that "high-end" classification and Apple's requirements to quality with that category.
Consistent with Cinematic Mode strategy
Not only that, but the new auto-focus system is a perfect fit for two features that Apple popularized into smartphones and sees as its own darlings: Portrait Mode for stills and Cinematic Mode for videos.
The new auto focusing system with a wider aperture will allow for a more pronounced "bokeh" effect and naturally enhance your portrait mode and cinematic mode shots, just because of its physical properties.
And one thing we know about Apple is that it is in the long game when it comes to new features, gradually improving them generation after generation, and this is one important improvement towards making two features that Apple brought into the mainstream like portrait and cinematic modes.
Under Display (UD) front cameras
Last but not least, we have to mention UD front cameras. Having a camera under the screen means it's hidden, so you can have a true edge-to-edge screen with no interruptions. It's a lucrative prospect.
However, the technology is still in its early days and there are issues. The Galaxy Z Fold series are the only mainstream phone with the tech that comes to mind, and while the camera is under the screen it's not exactly invisible as you can clearly see an array of pixels in its place.
The newly launched ZTE Axon 40 Ultra does better in that regard and it does masterfully conceal the camera, so you get a true edge-to-edge screen. However, image quality - while better than the first generation of those cameras - remains just "passable", but definitely not good.
You know what else is common between the Z Fold 3 and the ZTE Axon 40 Ultra? Yes, the compromises they both make in terms of the quality of those cameras, but also that both of them are niche devices that will sell in small numbers. Imagine Apple having to sell tens of millions of iPhones with this new technology that is rough around the edges. Yes, Apple is late to the party and will be, but that is one of the shortcomings when you have such massive scale.
We know for sure that Apple is looking into under display cameras, but its reluctancy to experiment with one tells us even more.
It tells us that Apple won't bet its most popular product that sells in tens of millions of units on an unproven, experimental technology. It's just the way things are when you are at that scale.
But it also tells us that Apple will not overlook any component, even something that by many standards is already "good enough". Investing three times more in a better front camera is not something users just requested from the company, yet it is doing it. Perfecting every single component rather than jumping on the hype train of any new technology that will give it quick gains. And that might just be what makes the iPhone as successful as it is.