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Apple prepping rear-facing 3D sensor for 2019 iPhone

By Roger Fingas

To further its augmented reality plans, Apple is reportedly developing a rear-facing 3D sensor for a 2019 iPhone that would join the front-facing TrueDepth system that premiered with the iPhone X.

Instead of projecting a grid of dots and measuring distortion like TrueDepth, the rear-mounted system -- currently in evaluation -- uses a time-of-flight method that calculates the time it takes for a laser to bounce off objects, sources told Bloomberg. Because testing is still at an early stage, it's not certain whether it will end up in the finished phone.

Apple is nevertheless said to be talking with potential suppliers. Some firms already producing time-of-flight sensors include Sony, Infineon, Panasonic, and STMicroelectronics.

On a basic level a rear-facing sensor could improve the accuracy of apps based on ARKit, which has trouble with vertical planes and depth perception, making it hard for virtual objects to interact with real ones. Apple might also conceivably use the technology for things like better photos and video, delivering more accurate focus, tracking, and effects.

It could also lay the groundwork for the company's rumored AR headset. Indeed a recent report suggested that Apple wants the necessary technology ready by 2019 so it can ship the headset the following year.

That device is expected to have its own display and processor, and run its own platform, internally nicknamed "rOS." It's still not certain how people will interact, but Apple is currently said to be considering a mix of a touch panel, Siri voice commands, and head gestures.

The claims made Tuesday by Bloomberg follow a previous rumor from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities, who said two weeks ago that Apple won't place a TrueDepth 3D camera in the 2018 iPhone X. Instead. Kuo expects that Apple will hold off on an advanced 3D sensing rear camera for another year, giving the company the opportunity to improve production and reduce costs.

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