The rumor mill is alive and well discussing some research analyst notes around the alleged dual camera feature for the new iPhone 7 this fall. It appears the rumors are looking at three variants for the iPhone with the 7, 7 Plus, and something above that which will supposedly feature dual-lens cameras. I’ve been tracking the component landscape in optics for some time and dual-lens cameras (I’ve seen demos with a dozen camera arrays) is a question of when not if.
The more demos I’ve had of some of the capabilities of dual-lens cameras on a smartphone, the more excited I get about the possibilities. For example, recording multiple videos at one time, perhaps one in slow motion and the other speed up and then being able to blend or edit them. Taking a large enough picture, megapixel wise, that you get the equivalent of 10x or more optical zoom with no image degradation. All consumers will see the benefit of zoom and not needing to carry a DSLR just so they can get pictures of their kids playing sports because they aren’t close enough. With dual-lens cameras, those days are gone. The ability to take pictures in extremely low-light gets even better with dual-lens cameras. Optical image stabilization sees dramatic performance increases. 3D imaging becomes possible. This could lead the way to VR and more immersive images and video. The benefits of dual-lens cameras are significant and, when consumers see what can be done with imaging with phones that sport dual-lens cameras, there will be a real “wow” factor.
Knowing this gives me confidence the technology is the kind of thing which could drive a new buying cycle and be the “must have” of the high-end devices that support it. Interestingly for Apple, many component analysts point to the LinX acquisition as playing a role with the needed IP to do unique things with optics. There is also clear capacity expansion in many of Apple’s core suppliers around optics. There is enough smoke here to take it seriously. However, the rumors are saying this dual-lens camera tech will only come to the highest end variant of the iPhone 7 Plus due to supply chain constraints. Essentially, there is going to be a very expensive high-end version of the 7 Plus which contains this stuff and it will be in short supply but likely very high demand.
Huawei was actually the first OEM to ship a dual-lens camera smartphone in the fall of 2014. It seems the supply chain is reinforcing that Huawei is also looking to be aggressive with this feature. Right now, these are the only two OEMs being mentioned for 2016. Samsung it appears won’t have anything until 2017 and, hopefully during that time frame, Apple will be able to scale the tech down the line.
From what I’ve seen and heard, it does seem this could be one of those must-have features. More importantly for Apple, the camera capabilities rank quite high among the features Android owners are considering when thinking of switching to an iPhone.
The challenge will come in the form of the rest of the market embracing these features and moving them to lower cost smartphones fairly quickly. I think 2019 is probably the time frame when you see really good dual-lens camera experiences in products under $500 so there will be a time advantage.
However, there is a software and ecosystem element of this which will favor Apple. The software to do this well will be very difficult and, more importantly, the app ecosystem to take advantage of it favors Apple’s developers who move much faster than others. So, while the rest of the market will get these features, the ecosystem may be void or less supportive of the value.
The long and short of it is that I’m bullish on the prospects.