Apple is interested in the 3D camera sensor produced by the existing supplier Sony, which uses precise time-of-flight technology. Satoshi Yoshihara, general manager of Sony’s sensor, said the company plans to start mass production of 3D chips next summer to meet the needs of “several” smartphone manufacturers. Satoshi Yoshihara did not disclose the names of potential customers, but he pointed out that Sony’s 3D chip business is making a profit. It is understood that Apple is interested in adopting this technology, but it is not clear whether this information is from Sony or other anonymous sources.
Apple’s existing TrueDepth camera system uses a VCSEL (Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser) to project structured light on an object. By measuring deviations and distortions in the grid, the system can generate 3D images for biometric authentication. Sony’s Time-of-Flight (ToF) system draws a depth map by measuring the time it takes for a light pulse to travel to and from the target surface. According to Satoshi Yoshihara, ToF technology is more accurate than structured light and can operate at greater distances.
There have been rumors about Apple’s interest in ToF solutions but today’s report is the first time that Sony has been linked to a potential production plan. In June 2017, there were reports that Apple was evaluating whether to use ToF for rear-facing cameras to help augmented reality applications. Apple analyst Guo Minghao said in September that Apple is unlikely to integrate ToF technology into the next generation of iPhones. Instead, Apple is expected to continue to rely on the dual camera system that was first used on the iPhone 7.