iPhone 8 will pack lasers for improved AR and autofocus

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Apple will pack lasers into the iPhone 8 to deliver improved augmented reality and autofocus, according to a new report. One source says that the rear-facing sensor will provide better depth perception in ARKit apps, and sharper photos.

One of the biggest new features we anticipate for iPhone 8 is a 3D sensor that will enable facial recognition as an alternative to Touch ID. But Fast Company reports that the device won’t just have 3D sensors on its front.

Apple is also expected to integrate a 3D laser sensor on the handset’s back that will improve augmented reality applications and enable enhanced autofocus in the camera app.

“The source said the VSCEL laser system is probably intended for the 10th anniversary iPhone (which may be called the iPhone 8 or the iPhone Pro or, hopefully, the iPhone X),” reads the report, citing someone with knowledge of Apple’s plans.

Apple stepped up its augmented reality efforts with the introduction of ARKit at WWDC back in June. The framework makes it easier than ever for iOS developers to build powerful AR apps and games — but they could be even better.

For now, ARKit relies on the iPhone’s camera to estimate the depth of the real world and place virtual objects. Adding a laser sensor that can more accurately measure this “would dramatically improve the depth measurement part, and would make the AR even more lifelike.”

The VCSEL sensor achieves this by calculating the distance light travels from the laser and back to the sensor, then generating a Time of Flight (TOF) measurement. It uses a lens, detector, and processor, and the whole component is said to cost around $2.

An added benefit is that the laser can also be used for ultra-fast and more accurate autofocus. Again, the sensors measures the TOF to generate a precise depth of field for your subject, then focuses the camera in a matter of milliseconds.

Apple wouldn’t be the first company to use lasers for autofocus; LG, Huawei, OnePlus, and others have used similar systems in the past with impressive results.

“Our source says Lumentum will be providing the bulk of the VCSEL lasers for the new iPhone, while Finisar and II-VI (pronounced “two-six”) will contend for a smaller share,” the report adds. “Apple has already qualified all three companies as potential suppliers, the source says.”

The TOF sensor will reportedly be manufactured by STMicro, Infineon, or AMS.

iPhone 8 is scheduled to make its debut this September, alongside the more affordable iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus. However, a recent report from CNBC suggests the high-end device could be delayed for up to a month as Apple works out technical issues.