With the growing adoption of dual- and triple-lens cameras in smartphones, it’s clear that phone makers are competing to offer the most accurate camera. Now we’re hearing that Sony, one of the biggest camera chip makers for the smartphone industry, is working on a new camera technology which surpasses Apple’s Face ID. The tech is expected to be ready some time this year.
According to Bloomberg, Sony has been working on new 3D sensors since Apple showed interest in its camera chips. The next-generation chips will reportedly be found in both rear-facing and selfie cameras and could appear in several smartphone models this year. Satoshi Yoshihara, head of Sony’s sensor division, told Bloomberg that the company plans to begin mass production in late summer to meet demand.
While he declined to disclose details on sales expectations or production targets for the new camera technology, he did say that the company’s 3D sensor business is already profitable and that it will impact earnings starting in April. Sony has already provided a software toolkit to outside developers so they can create new apps using its 3D sensor chipsets.
If the company does start selling the new camera technology, it will offer a huge boost for the next generation of smartphones because the currently-available models are fairly similar to their predecessors, so they aren’t really motivating consumers to upgrade.
“Cameras revolutionized phones, and based on what I’ve seen, I have the same expectation for 3D,” Yoshihara told Bloomberg. “The pace will vary by field, but we’re definitely going to see adoption of 3D. I’m certain of it.”
Sony will have to overcome some challenges as it faces off with competitors like Lumentum Holdings and STMicroelectronics, which have already been using 3D camera sensors. Their sensors are used for enhanced facial recognition and measuring depth to improve focus for taking nighttime photos.
Yoshihara has spent more than a decade working on camera adoption in smartphones. He told Bloomberg that Sony’s technology takes a newer approach to already-existing chips which are not as accurate when it comes to distance. Sony uses a method called “time of flight,” which sends invisible laser pulses and then measures the amount of time it takes the pulses to bounce back. This enables Sony’s cameras to create more detailed 3D models, even at a distance of up to five meters. The cameras can also be used in mobile games by enabling users to create new virtual characters capable of navigating real-world environments.
According to Bloomberg, Sony displayed some examples of its new camera technology on a custom phone with a 3D camera on the rear. For example, one app enabled users to mimic several hand gestures to make their characters cast a magic spell inside a game. Another model successfully measured the depth of the room and displayed a virtual goldfish swimming around and in front of real-life objects.
“The most important thing in the coming year will be to get people excited,” Yoshihara said.
If these innovations really do arrive this year, then consumers have a lot to look forward to in the smartphone market. The new camera technology could even draw consumers’ attention from the notorious smartphone notch and the new camera hole which has been rumored to appear in the Galaxy S10.