Apple has two-year head start on Android in 3D sensing arms race, report says

Posted:
in iPhone edited March 20
Apple's savvy supply chain acumen has afforded it a two-year lead in a mounting 3D sensing arms race the company sparked with the introduction of Face ID on iPhone X, as reports claim major suppliers will not have crucial parts available for Android makers until 2019.




Citing talks with parts suppliers, Reuters estimates Android handset manufacturers like Huawei and Xiaomi will have to wait until 2019 for 3D sensing parts suppliers to reach production levels adequate for wide adoption.

That would give Apple, which debuted iPhone X last year, a substantial leg up over the competition.

Statements from Viavi Solutions Inc., Finisar Corp and Ams AG suggest production bottlenecks stand in the way of Android device makers fielding their own version of Apple's TrueDepth camera system and features like Face ID.

Viavi, which produces optical filters required for 3D sensing modules, is seeing constrained supply.

"It is going to take them a lot of time, the Android-based customers, to secure capacity throughout the whole supply chain," said Bill Ong, Viavi's senior director of investor relations. "We may have a potential introduction of a second handset maker into 3D sensing at the end of this calendar year. (But) the volumes would be very low. In 2019 you clearly will see at least two or more Android-based phones."

Ong declined to name the company, but said Viavi is in talks with "all" major smartphone manufacturers, the report said.

The largest roadblock standing in the way of a TrueDepth competitor is supply of vertical cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL) modules. Sometimes referred to as structured light modules, VCSEL components make up the dot projector in Apple's 3D modeling apparatus, which also includes an infrared flood illuminator, and infrared camera and color cameras.

Apple secured a steady supply of VCSELs from partner manufacturer Finisar in a $390 million deal hammered out in December. Officially taken out of Apple's Advanced Manufacturing Fund, the infusion allowed Finisar to acquire a 700,000-square foot manufacturing plant in Sherman, Texas, which will pump out VCSEL supply for the iPhone maker.

In a statement last year, Apple said the investment will allow Finisar to "exponentially increase its R&D spending and high-volume production."

"Each customer has their own adoption timeline and rollout plan, which we can't discuss, but we expect the market opportunity for VCSEL technology to increase substantially in 2019," Craig Thompson, vice president of new markets at Finisar, told Reuters.

Other manufacturers build VCSEL modules, though production bottlenecks have hampered availability.

Lumentum, which was at one point pegged to deliver parts for iPhone X, is thought to have hit a snag last year that prompted Apple's Finisar deal. The firm in a recent earnings call said it is ramping up VCSEL and edge-emitting laser production for the first half of fiscal 2019, according to the report.

VCSEL producer Ams is also expecting capacity available for mass production in 2019.

However, by the time Android handset producers get their hands on suitable 3D sensing components, Apple will be well into its second year with the technology. Two years gives the Cupertino tech company a large window to build out TrueDepth, and perhaps other VCSEL-based camera hardware, with rumors already pointing to an expansion into iPad.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    By the looks of the Galaxy S9 it seems like a 3-4 year lead.
    edited March 20 mejsrictechrulesDon.Andersenmagman1979jony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 46
    wonkothesanewonkothesane Posts: 1,246member
    From an Android POV this is of course not true. Already now they are able to copy, err, invent something even better than Animoji, they have some cool face recognition stuff that almost lets them trust really secure stuff, such as paying. And latest next year they will have caught up with something that claims to be much better than anything on iOS. Oh, and eventually, years later they get it actually to work it silently abandon it. 

    I mean for the most parts Appple get the maturity right before releasing (noteworthy exceptions come of course to mind), but  one thing I totally despise are systematically throwing half baked features at the wall of customers hoping that something sticks. This is so.... brainless. 
    arthurbatechrulesgregg thurmanmacky the mackylkruppDon.Andersenmagman1979jony0watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 46

    So the VCSEL modules are manufactured in the US, shipped to China for assembly and then shipped back as a completed product.

    If Apple worked towards automating the iPhone assembly, would it then be able to move that to the US as well? Besides assembly, what else is Apple dependant on China for? I think there is something to do with rare minerals as well, right?

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 46
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 2,790member
    Last year Huawei was doing live demos of 3D sensing systems with ten times the resolution of FaceID. Huawei has been working with Finisar for years and have even collaborated on product development in the past.

    The iPhone X is the only Apple phone with FaceID at present and demand for it will not sky rocket in the coming months. The units necessary for some Android destined 3D sensing equipment probably already exist.

    There is the possibility of industry wide supply constraints but I imagine that some Android manufacturers should be able to get models out without too many problems.

    The Huawei P20 series will be announced next week and will be a reference point. If it ships without the Point Cloud Depth setup, it will lend strength to this rumour. If it ships with it, some manufacturers may be covered while others are locked out for a time.

    Just a few days to wait.
    edited March 20 arthurbasingularityaylkmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 5 of 46
    avon b7 said:
    Last year Huawei was doing live demos of 3D sensing systems with ten times the resolution of FaceID. Huawei has been working with Finisar for years and have even collaborated on product development in the past.

    The iPhone X is the only Apple phone with FaceID at present and demand for it will not sky rocket in the coming months. The units necessary for some Android destined 3D sensing equipment probably already exist.

    There is the possibility of industry wide supply constraints but I imagine that some Android manufacturers should be able to get models out without too many problems.

    The Huawei P20 series will be announced next week and will be a reference point. If it ships without the Point Cloud Depth sensor, it will lend strength to this rumour. If it ships with it, some manufacturers may be covered while others are locked out for a time.

    Just a few days to wait.
    Too bad Huawei is still stuck with the Android junk.
    ericthehalfbeetmaymagman1979StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 46
    asciiascii Posts: 5,938member
    We humans can perceive depth and identify/delimit the objects in the room purely with binocular vision, without having to actively emit laser light. So it should be possible for a phone to do it to, with 2 cameras and smart enough software. 

    Maybe if Apple really does have a monopoly on a key component for 2 years competitors could try a more software centric approach.
    arthurbaaylkjony0
  • Reply 7 of 46
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 2,790member
    avon b7 said:
    Last year Huawei was doing live demos of 3D sensing systems with ten times the resolution of FaceID. Huawei has been working with Finisar for years and have even collaborated on product development in the past.

    The iPhone X is the only Apple phone with FaceID at present and demand for it will not sky rocket in the coming months. The units necessary for some Android destined 3D sensing equipment probably already exist.

    There is the possibility of industry wide supply constraints but I imagine that some Android manufacturers should be able to get models out without too many problems.

    The Huawei P20 series will be announced next week and will be a reference point. If it ships without the Point Cloud Depth sensor, it will lend strength to this rumour. If it ships with it, some manufacturers may be covered while others are locked out for a time.

    Just a few days to wait.
    Too bad Huawei is still stuck with the Android junk.
    You'd have to expand on that a little.

    On the subject of VCSEL alone, Finisar does more business with the communications industry (including Huawei of course) than with Apple or smartphones. Going forward, this will change as more handset manufacturers include 3D depth sensing. Apple has invested in Finisar for future orders.

    Last year Huawei had problems with some Finisar equipment (VCSEL related) which lead to Finisar being disqualified as a supplier for a time. Huawei then took its business to Lumentum and was happy with the results. Finisar corrected the issues and was requalified by Huawei but Lumentum slashed prices to keep favour with Huawei.

    I don't know how this will leave the playing field but I think Huawei shouldn't have difficulties with supply of VCSELs for the phones it will announce soon if they have 3D depth sensing. There are other elements in the manufacturing process though that could complicate things. The number one difficulty behind 3D depth sensing for authentication isn't the hardware but the software behind it.

    I'm speaking from memory on the Huawei/Finisar relationship. It might be a little off as a result but the gist is there.
    arthurbaasciimuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 8 of 46
    And with the RED Hydrogen One - Android are 2 years ahead of Apple on 3D/4View content display. 

    As as a collaborator with Apple, I’m certain RED did talk to Apple about this first - but Apple has decided to concentrate on 3D sensing, and leave 3D/4view display and content to RED.  I assume this is a cleverly calculated decision - including the fact that once there is 4view content, Android representa little barrier for entry to Apple and that Apple can get access to the Leia display tech just as soon as general Android licensees - the exclusivity is with RED not Google. 

    Still - it’s interesting choices. RED can produce 3D images right off the Hydrogen One using dual cameras - no VCSEL required - but they are not mapping rooms or faces - just creating 4view content. 

    Apple let are really betting on Developers using the 3D mapping / neural networks in iOS to generate some compelling apps.  The potential is there - but like Siri - I’m still waiting for the potential to be realized. FaceID and Animoji aside - where are the compelling use cases.  

    Hopefully 2018 will see more developer API’s and handsets with VCSEL front and back. 
  • Reply 9 of 46
    ascii said:
    We humans can perceive depth and identify/delimit the objects in the room purely with binocular vision, without having to actively emit laser light. So it should be possible for a phone to do it to, with 2 cameras and smart enough software

    Maybe if Apple really does have a monopoly on a key component for 2 years competitors could try a more software centric approach.
    computer software, especially that which can fit on a mobile phone is decades or more away from the capabilities of the human brain. What can seem a simple everyday task to us, is infinitely difficult to program a computer to know how to do on its own. For now, lasers present the computer with definite computable facts to work with in attempting to replicate our vision and what we do with it.



    edited March 20
  • Reply 10 of 46
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,736member
    As others have stated, it is always easier and faster to copy than innovate from scratch.
    jbdragonStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 46
    techrulestechrules Posts: 52unconfirmed, member
    adm1 said:
    ascii said:
    We humans can perceive depth and identify/delimit the objects in the room purely with binocular vision, without having to actively emit laser light. So it should be possible for a phone to do it to, with 2 cameras and smart enough software

    Maybe if Apple really does have a monopoly on a key component for 2 years competitors could try a more software centric approach.
    This is exactly how the portrait mode works with the Google Pixel 2. They use the dual pixel split that is on the camera to calculate like our two eyes. Then Google uses AI. "the Google Pixel 2 calculate the depth mask using a very smart idea: since all the new generation rear camera phones have a dual pixel split on the sensor to get a fast focusing system (the phase detection), it uses this system to calculate the difference of view of the left side from the right side of the lens."
  • Reply 12 of 46
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 1,378member
    Tesla uses cameras instead of LIDAR for its auto pilot software (I guess the Lidar missed the pedestrian hit by UBER).    
    I wonder if these multiple modules could be used (with cameras) in self driving cars for a safer than Camera or Lidar based system.
    Could give Apple a leg up. 
  • Reply 13 of 46
    This “2-year lead” won’t matter a bit to Android users. Android OEMs will launch inferior versions starting with this years flagships and Android users will tout those options as better or just as good as FaceID. Doubt this FaceID lead will lead to an influx on Android converts, beyond what we normally see.
    jbdragonmagman1979watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 46
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 1,791member
    avon b7 said:
    Last year Huawei was doing live demos of 3D sensing systems with ten times the resolution of FaceID. Huawei has been working with Finisar for years and have even collaborated on product development in the past.

    The iPhone X is the only Apple phone with FaceID at present and demand for it will not sky rocket in the coming months. The units necessary for some Android destined 3D sensing equipment probably already exist.

    There is the possibility of industry wide supply constraints but I imagine that some Android manufacturers should be able to get models out without too many problems.

    The Huawei P20 series will be announced next week and will be a reference point. If it ships without the Point Cloud Depth setup, it will lend strength to this rumour. If it ships with it, some manufacturers may be covered while others are locked out for a time.

    Just a few days to wait.

    Making a few demo or reference units is not the same as being able to mass produce them. That is where bottlenecks usually show up. There are many, many technologies "still in the lab", because it is extremely hard to manufacture them at scale.

    The one thing most companies don't have, that Apple has, is the money to throw at those issues, because they can demand a premium price for their products. Plus the cost to manufacture is minimal when you're selling a product at the scale Apple does.
    tmayStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 46
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,321member
    k2kw said:
    Tesla uses cameras instead of LIDAR for its auto pilot software (I guess the Lidar missed the pedestrian hit by UBER).    
    I wonder if these multiple modules could be used (with cameras) in self driving cars for a safer than Camera or Lidar based system.
    Could give Apple a leg up. 
    Not necessarily, the LiDAR may have "seen" her just fine, but there was zero time to react to it by either the automated sensors or the human driver.  Initial police investigations place the blame on the deceased. 

    As for the camera vs LiDAR Apple is currently depending on the latter on their road-test vehicles in addition to cameras just as many other autonomous systems from other companies are. 
    edited March 20 muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 16 of 46
    GG1GG1 Posts: 201member

    So the VCSEL modules are manufactured in the US, shipped to China for assembly and then shipped back as a completed product.

    If Apple worked towards automating the iPhone assembly, would it then be able to move that to the US as well? Besides assembly, what else is Apple dependant on China for? I think there is something to do with rare minerals as well, right?

    The manufacturing of all the phones' piece parts is hugely dependent on China now. China have developed the ecosystem to not only design, but to rapidly prototype and build in volume the myriad of parts needed for a phone: machined metal (screws), tooling for metal, plastic, rubber parts (stampings, injection moldings, etc.), printed circuit boards, flexible printed circuit boards, discrete electrical components (resistors, capacitors, etc.), and so on.

    Now once they are built, the parts can be shipped to other countries, but with low labor prices in China, why assemble elsewhere? Especially if a problem occurred in a part, the feedback would be much quicker if everything stayed in China.

    I've wondered if other countries besides Brazil and India would eventually require Apple (or whomever) to manufacture in their country in order to be allowed to sell there. If this becomes a trend, manufacturing costs would increase (and you and I would pay for it!).
    jbdragonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 46
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,313member
    avon b7 said:
    avon b7 said:
    Last year Huawei was doing live demos of 3D sensing systems with ten times the resolution of FaceID. Huawei has been working with Finisar for years and have even collaborated on product development in the past.

    The iPhone X is the only Apple phone with FaceID at present and demand for it will not sky rocket in the coming months. The units necessary for some Android destined 3D sensing equipment probably already exist.

    There is the possibility of industry wide supply constraints but I imagine that some Android manufacturers should be able to get models out without too many problems.

    The Huawei P20 series will be announced next week and will be a reference point. If it ships without the Point Cloud Depth sensor, it will lend strength to this rumour. If it ships with it, some manufacturers may be covered while others are locked out for a time.

    Just a few days to wait.
    Too bad Huawei is still stuck with the Android junk.
    You'd have to expand on that a little.

    On the subject of VCSEL alone, Finisar does more business with the communications industry (including Huawei of course) than with Apple or smartphones. Going forward, this will change as more handset manufacturers include 3D depth sensing. Apple has invested in Finisar for future orders.

    Last year Huawei had problems with some Finisar equipment (VCSEL related) which lead to Finisar being disqualified as a supplier for a time. Huawei then took its business to Lumentum and was happy with the results. Finisar corrected the issues and was requalified by Huawei but Lumentum slashed prices to keep favour with Huawei.

    I don't know how this will leave the playing field but I think Huawei shouldn't have difficulties with supply of VCSELs for the phones it will announce soon if they have 3D depth sensing. There are other elements in the manufacturing process though that could complicate things. The number one difficulty behind 3D depth sensing for authentication isn't the hardware but the software behind it.

    I'm speaking from memory on the Huawei/Finisar relationship. It might be a little off as a result but the gist is there.

    Here is the fine point you miss, Apple sung a ton of money in to Finisar, i.e. locked up supply. Finisar is now obligated to supply parts to Apple first before others who come later. You are correct they Apple has never had a direct business relationship with Finisar since they were in two different industries. But money talks and everything else walks. Huawei made the mistake of not put money into the negotiation to ensure they have supply. The reason the entire industry will stay behind it not having the technology it not having access to the supply of parts. This is why having supply agreements, with deep relationship and money sprinkled on top make a world of difference.

    Everyone else has to fight for any capacity which is left, which means cost go up for everyone else.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 46
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 2,790member
    mjtomlin said:
    avon b7 said:
    Last year Huawei was doing live demos of 3D sensing systems with ten times the resolution of FaceID. Huawei has been working with Finisar for years and have even collaborated on product development in the past.

    The iPhone X is the only Apple phone with FaceID at present and demand for it will not sky rocket in the coming months. The units necessary for some Android destined 3D sensing equipment probably already exist.

    There is the possibility of industry wide supply constraints but I imagine that some Android manufacturers should be able to get models out without too many problems.

    The Huawei P20 series will be announced next week and will be a reference point. If it ships without the Point Cloud Depth setup, it will lend strength to this rumour. If it ships with it, some manufacturers may be covered while others are locked out for a time.

    Just a few days to wait.

    Making a few demo or reference units is not the same as being able to mass produce them. That is where bottlenecks usually show up. There are many, many technologies "still in the lab", because it is extremely hard to manufacture them at scale.

    The one thing most companies don't have, that Apple has, is the money to throw at those issues, because they can demand a premium price for their products. Plus the cost to manufacture is minimal when you're selling a product at the scale Apple does.
    Having had long experience with VCSEL use and the manufacturers involved, I doubt Huawei in particular will have the same issues as other handset manufacturers with regards to hardware supply. There are lots of companies involved in 3D depth sensing.

    The demos last year showed a complete hardware solution. The software will be another matter, though.

    No doubt there will be issues with supply but I find it hard to imagine Huawei suffering although the truth is anything could happen and we won't know for sure until the 27th.

    Current handset use of 3D depth sensing seems to have a limited range. I suppose work is being carried out to give phones an increased range for things like AR.


    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 19 of 46
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,349member
    mjtomlin said:
    avon b7 said:
    Last year Huawei was doing live demos of 3D sensing systems with ten times the resolution of FaceID. Huawei has been working with Finisar for years and have even collaborated on product development in the past.

    The iPhone X is the only Apple phone with FaceID at present and demand for it will not sky rocket in the coming months. The units necessary for some Android destined 3D sensing equipment probably already exist.

    There is the possibility of industry wide supply constraints but I imagine that some Android manufacturers should be able to get models out without too many problems.

    The Huawei P20 series will be announced next week and will be a reference point. If it ships without the Point Cloud Depth setup, it will lend strength to this rumour. If it ships with it, some manufacturers may be covered while others are locked out for a time.

    Just a few days to wait.

    Making a few demo or reference units is not the same as being able to mass produce them. That is where bottlenecks usually show up. There are many, many technologies "still in the lab", because it is extremely hard to manufacture them at scale.

    The one thing most companies don't have, that Apple has, is the money to throw at those issues, because they can demand a premium price for their products. Plus the cost to manufacture is minimal when you're selling a product at the scale Apple does.
    Very true. 

    And having ten times the resolution of FaceID is great, until you realise you need ten times more battery power and processor power to do anything with it. This is why Apple has never won the spec race, but won just about everything else.
    magman1979watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 46
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,468member
    arthurba said:
    And with the RED Hydrogen One - Android are 2 years ahead of Apple on 3D/4View content display. 

    As as a collaborator with Apple, I’m certain RED did talk to Apple about this first - but Apple has decided to concentrate on 3D sensing, and leave 3D/4view display and content to RED.  I assume this is a cleverly calculated decision - including the fact that once there is 4view content, Android representa little barrier for entry to Apple and that Apple can get access to the Leia display tech just as soon as general Android licensees - the exclusivity is with RED not Google. 

    Still - it’s interesting choices. RED can produce 3D images right off the Hydrogen One using dual cameras - no VCSEL required - but they are not mapping rooms or faces - just creating 4view content. 

    Apple let are really betting on Developers using the 3D mapping / neural networks in iOS to generate some compelling apps.  The potential is there - but like Siri - I’m still waiting for the potential to be realized. FaceID and Animoji aside - where are the compelling use cases.  

    Hopefully 2018 will see more developer API’s and handsets with VCSEL front and back.
    Can you give a link to any instances of RED/Apple collaboration? 

    I agree that holographic display is the kind of edge technology that Apple would let others, like RED, develop first. It may take a lot of niche-level development before we see if it rises beyond gimmick or geek categories. Like VR, for example, which Apple is apparently avoiding.

    As for compelling use cases for 3D depth sensing, I wonder if sensors on the back of phones or iPads are the key to some kind of near-space mapping for AR, in which case the hardware would still have to get very cheap, seems to me.


    watto_cobra
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