That iPhone camera bump could get a lot smaller, if Apple's research pans out

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in iPhone
Apple is trying to improve the image quality of its iPhone cameras even more and cut back on the external camera bump at the same time, by researching the use of a periscope-like lens assembly inside the body of the iPhone.

Cameras on the back of the iPhone XS and the iPhone 11 Pro
Cameras on the back of the iPhone XS and the iPhone 11 Pro


Smartphone cameras are probably the most commonly used devices for everyday photography, with their small stature and practically always available nature making them more useful than larger DSLRs or other standalone cameras. Over time, the imaging quality of smartphones has caught up with the higher-quality systems used by purpose-built photographic devices, with similar levels of resolutions offered by the imaging sensors in both categories of hardware.

However, while the sensor has improved, the lens systems used in smartphones haven't received as many improvements. In part, this is due to the small size of the camera lenses themselves, which are usually confined to a small length, while the lenses in DSLRs can offer far better imaging due to the room and the ability to extend practically as far forward from the camera sensor as the manufacturer wants.

Smartphone cameras obviously cannot offer this extension, as that would impact the thickness of the iPhone, or result in a large camera bump on the back, neither of which is desirable.

In a similar pair of patents titled "Folded lens system with five refractive lenses" and another with "three refractive lenses" granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, Apple seeks to correct the problem by using not only a combination of lenses to create an image, but also introducing length.

Rather than directly pointing out from the back of the smartphone, Apple's proposal hinges on using a prism to reflect the image at a 90-degree angle. This could allow for a camera sensor to be mounted an inch or two away from the usual location, for example, but still seem to be mounted conventionally, and with minimal protrusion out the back.

An example illustration of the five-lens assembly, topped off by a prism to angle the light.
An example illustration of the five-lens assembly, topped off by a prism to angle the light.


In effect, by changing the direction of light used for capturing the image to along the length or width of an iPhone, this gives Apple the ability to lengthen the distance used in the lens assembly.

Both patents differ when it comes to the number of lenses used, with one opting for three while the other uses five. Each of the elements use concave and convex elements to manipulate the light, but they offer two different purposes.

The five-element version can offer a 35mm-equivalent focal length in the range of 50 to 85mm, and with field of views of between 28 degrees and 41 degrees, making it useful for a wide-angle camera. Meanwhile, the three-element is said to provide a 35mm-equivalent of a 80-200mm focal length range, and with a field of view between 17.8 and 28.5 degrees, which would put it as a telephoto assembly.

In theory, this would mean Apple could use one of each type of assembly to offer the commonly-used telephoto and wide-angle shooters of a dual-lens camera, and leaves open the possibility of a third arrangement for an ultra-wide version.

Apple produces numerous patent application filings on a weekly basis, but while the documents indicate areas of interest for Apple's research and development areas, it does not guarantee the concepts will appear in a future product or service.

This is not the only camera-related patent application Apple has made, with one June proposal offering a camera sensor for the Apple Watch, embedded within the strap of the wearable device.
applesnoranges
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 34
    MtsandersenMtsandersen Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    How is this different from the Huawei P30’s 5x zoom folded lens, or the one being developed by Samsung for the Galaxy s11 for next year? Is the patent specific to the lens configuration or design, like how camera manufacturers patent their lens designs?
    avon b7superklotonviclauyyc
  • Reply 2 of 34
    AppleishAppleish Posts: 162member
    I'd rather keep the bump, if it gives them more room for improvement. Although, these 11 Pros are such a leap past the XS cameras, that I can't imagine how they improve on them, soon at least.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 34
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 2,185member
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    superklotonviclauyycnetroxtoysandme
  • Reply 4 of 34
    How fragile is this solution? To keep outputting good photos it needs to be in rigid structure to survive drops and other impacts i guess.
    viclauyyc
  • Reply 5 of 34
    jbdragon said:
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    Exactly, I could certainly live with a slightly fatter and heavier phone.....for better optics and much greater battery life. The obsession with ever thinner products has murdred the MBP for example.

    Steve
    viclauyyctoysandmeapplesnoranges
  • Reply 6 of 34
    jbdragon said:
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    This.... I still feel that the iPhone 4S form factor was the best of all the iPhones.
    cornchip
  • Reply 7 of 34
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,989administrator
    How is this different from the Huawei P30’s 5x zoom folded lens, or the one being developed by Samsung for the Galaxy s11 for next year? Is the patent specific to the lens configuration or design, like how camera manufacturers patent their lens designs?
    Lens configuration to cut back on optical aberrations induced by multiple elements.
    tmaywatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 34
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,989administrator

    jbdragon said:
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    They could, but you know full well that it isn't going to happen much more than it has in the last three years already.
    toysandmeking editor the gratewatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 34
    jbdragon said:
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    Not sure if I would like the extra weight. My iPhone X with no case is 174g and I already feel the weight on my pinky when holding it with one hand. I had the 6s Plus before that and it was 192g. My biggest complaint with that phone was the weight when using it with one hand. After 3 years with that phone, the weight still bothered me. So much so that I opted for the non max version. The iPhone 11 is 188g, if it was to get a battery larger to fill the void of pushing out the back to match the camera bump, I feel like the weight would be nearing 220-230g. For me that would be a brick of a phone and just too much for comfortable one hand usage.
    StrangeDaysabedosswatto_cobrajdb8167
  • Reply 10 of 34
    thttht Posts: 3,312member
    Apple has a much much earlier patent application for this type of thing, going back like 9 years or so. The idea is obviously old, and everyone and their brother thought of this idea. I don’t see how it eliminates the camera bump though, especially on 8 mm thick devices when the image sensors are like 8.5 to 9 mm themselves, and it doesn’t include the housing.

    The best option to have no bump is probably the telescoping optical zooms that pop out in digital cameras and retract when in not operation. Otherwise, live with bumps.
    cy_starkmanwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 34
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,748member
    jbdragon said:
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    Not sure if I would like the extra weight. My iPhone X with no case is 174g and I already feel the weight on my pinky when holding it with one hand. I had the 6s Plus before that and it was 192g. My biggest complaint with that phone was the weight when using it with one hand. After 3 years with that phone, the weight still bothered me. So much so that I opted for the non max version. The iPhone 11 is 188g, if it was to get a battery larger to fill the void of pushing out the back to match the camera bump, I feel like the weight would be nearing 220-230g. For me that would be a brick of a phone and just too much for comfortable one hand usage.
    My favorite iPhone of all time will always be the iPhone 4.  I loved everything about it, from the angular design, and the brushed stainless steel edges.  Just like Steve Jobs described it being like an "old Leica".  I loved the hefty weight as well.  It felt like I was holding something durable, substantial, and of quality.

    I'm quite happy with my iPX.  However, if the rumors hold true that the 2020 iPhone might resurrect the iP4 design, I will certainly make the purchase.
    philboogiebadmonkwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 34
    A problem here is that the sensor size would then be limited in size to the depth of the phone. The largest dimension of the sensor in the XS is apparently 7mm, and the depth of the XS is 7.7mm. It’a doubtful even that sensor sideways would fit inside when you subtract material thickness and display. Even if it would fit, larger sensors are basically a non-option. The lens size would also be limited as well since the reflector size will be limited as well in order to be positioned at a 45° angle.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 34
    How is this different from the Huawei P30’s 5x zoom folded lens, or the one being developed by Samsung for the Galaxy s11 for next year? Is the patent specific to the lens configuration or design, like how camera manufacturers patent their lens designs?
    The concept is way older than that. Decades old. There was a Minolta point & shoot with such a design back in the 90s, and I'm sure there were some before that.
    toysandmecy_starkmantmaywatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 34
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,497member
    The current 11 Pro lens system is the most impressive I’ve ever used in a phone. Really great.
    cy_starkmantmaywatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 34
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,893member
    jbdragon said:
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    You make an assumption here that the optic wouldn’t result in a thicker phone. Optics and physics are tightly linked sciences and as such there are real limits upon what one can do with a fixed thickness and objective size.  Even though the folded optics is about addressing size, in this case thickness, you still have to address the physics involved to yield better quality.  That might mean a larger objective diameter or a more complex optical path.   If their goal is true optical Zoom (a good goal) then you also need room for the mechanics.  

    What I’m trying to say here is that folded optics doesn’t mean by default thinner design.  All it means is a thinner solution relative a non folded solution.  It doesn’t mean that a 2020 iPhone will be thinner because of this technique.   It could be or Apple may have other goals.  

    Frankly I’m of the opinion that cell phones can’t get much thinner without suffering from usability issues.  Of course that hasn’t  stopped Apple with the laptops.  


  • Reply 16 of 34
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,787member
    jbdragon said:
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    They have been getting thicker since the 6 series. 

    The 11 Pro is already noticeably heavier than its predecessors. Going much heavier would not be ideal. 
    fastasleepphilboogiewatto_cobrajdb8167
  • Reply 17 of 34
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,787member

    jbdragon said:
    Apple could just fatter then phones up a bit, the bump would be gone and now you have more space for a larger battery. Why over think this or make it complicated.
    This.... I still feel that the iPhone 4S form factor was the best of all the iPhones.
    If the very small size of the 4 were ideal, consumers wouldnt have voted with their wallets for bigger phones. I’d find it difficult to return to the 4 size. 
    jdb8167
  • Reply 18 of 34
    How is this different from the Huawei P30’s 5x zoom folded lens, or the one being developed by Samsung for the Galaxy s11 for next year? Is the patent specific to the lens configuration or design, like how camera manufacturers patent their lens designs?
    The concept is way older than that. Decades old. There was a Minolta point & shoot with such a design back in the 90s, and I'm sure there were some before that.

    How is this different from the Huawei P30’s 5x zoom folded lens, or the one being developed by Samsung for the Galaxy s11 for next year? Is the patent specific to the lens configuration or design, like how camera manufacturers patent their lens designs?
    The concept is way older than that. Decades old. There was a Minolta point & shoot with such a design back in the 90s, and I'm sure there were some before that.
    I remember those. I really wonder how such an old idea can still be patented today. Minolta recycled the concept with their digital models
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 34
    hentaiboyhentaiboy Posts: 1,030member
     Over time, the imaging quality of smartphones has caught up with the higher-quality systems used by purpose-built photographic devices, with similar levels of resolutions offered by the imaging sensors in both categories of hardware.”

    No, not even close. Sony A7R IV for example has a 
    61MP sensor.
    edited October 8
  • Reply 20 of 34
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,979member
    How is this different from the Huawei P30’s 5x zoom folded lens, or the one being developed by Samsung for the Galaxy s11 for next year? Is the patent specific to the lens configuration or design, like how camera manufacturers patent their lens designs?
    Every lens design is different. No one can patent a folded lens design with the fold being the main design for the purpose of a patent. That’s because folded lens designs have been around for a very long time.

    but every lens is patentable for its specific design. All lens manufacturers patent all of their new lens designs.
    cornchipwatto_cobrajdb8167
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