A new report from Fast Company reveals a previously undisclosed technology that Apple is working on for the company’s upcoming “iPhone 8” in the form of a rear-facing 3D laser sensor system that would be used to provide a more accurate autofocus for photography as well as enabling better depth detection for augmented reality apps. The report’s source suggests that the new VSCEL laser system is “probably intended for the 10th anniversary iPhone,” expected to arrive later this year, although that remains uncertain in light of all of the other technical hurdles that Apple is reportedly struggling with. The source suggests that the main issue in this case is integrated the laser system into the iPhone, rather than the system itself.
While previous reports over the past several months have already pointed to a 3D sensor system being incorporated into the new iPhone, it’s generally been unclear as to exactly what the purpose of the system would be. Other analysts such as Ming-Chi Kuo have also suggested that the front-facing camera will use a laser for creating 3D selfie effects and facial recognition for authentication purposes. However, consider the strong push Apple is making into augmented reality with ARKit in iOS 11, it makes sense that 3D laser sensors would be of primary use to provide the accuracy required for a truly lifelike augmented reality platform. VCSEL laser systems are specifically designed to calculate the distance to an object and generate accurate measurements, and consist of the laser source along with a lens, sensor, and processor, but as sophisticated as the system sounds, sources suggest that it would only cost around $2 per iPhone to implement.