Apple Inc. plans to launch iPhones with a more powerful 3D camera as soon as next year, stepping up the company’s push into augmented reality, according to people familiar with the plans.
The rear-facing, longer range 3D camera is designed to scan the environment to create 3-D reconstructions of the real world. It will work up to about 15 feet from the device, according to the people. That’s in contrast with the current iPhone 3D camera system, which points towards users and operates at distances of 25 to 50 centimeters to power Apple’s Face ID Facial-recognition feature.
The new system used a lase scanner, instead of the existing dot-projection technology which dosen’t work as well over longer distances, according to the people, whi asked not to be identitied discussing unreleased features. That’s just one of the many new features—including a third, more advanced camera, enhanced photo-capture tools and a more powerful chip—that Apple plans to include in coming generations of iPhones.
The laser-powered 3D camera would enhance augmented reality on the iPhone, allowing for more accurate depth perception and placement of virtual objects. It could also help the handset take photos that can better capture depth, said the people. Apple has been in talks with Sony Corp. about testing sensors for the new system, one of the people said.
While virtual reality immerses the user in a digital realm, AR overlays visuals and data onto a view of the real world. Use cases include looking at a building and displaying details of the structure beside the image, or listing repair instructions for a mechanic while she works on a defective machine. It’s been touted as having wider mass-market appeal than VR, and Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has talked up its prospects.
The 2020 iPhone camera may be a prelude to an AR headset that Apple has been preparing for as early as 2020. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the company’s plans, which could change.
Apple previously aimed to put the new 3D camera system on the back of this year’s high-end iPhones, but delayed that, the people familiar also said. Still, the Cupertino, California-based technology giant is doubling down on camera capabilities for its handsets.