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Kuo: Apple unlikely to integrate rear-facing 3D sensor in 2019 iPhone

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Contrary to industry expectations, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes the company will not integrate a rear-side time of flight (TOF) solution in its 2019 iPhone lineup, saying the technology is not yet ready for the augmented reality revolution.

In a note to investors seen by AppleInsider, Ming-Chi Kuo says industry analysts expect Apple to incorporate rear-side TOF as it looks to develop next-generation augmented reality experiences. For example, Apple is thought to be developing an AR version of Apple Maps, potentially for use with a rumored AR headset.

According to Kuo, the distance and depth information provided by existing rear-side TOF hardware is insufficient for creating the "revolutionary AR experience" that Apple is presumably working toward.

The analyst believes a comprehensive AR ecosystem is one that integrates 5G connectivity, AR glass (a wearable, head-mounted device) and a "more powerful Apple Maps database" that includes appropriate distance and depth information. It appears Kuo, like others, assumes Apple Maps will be marketed as a "killer app" for Apple's next-gen AR experience.

Additionally, TOF tech does not improve photo taking functionality, a major consideration for a company that touts its handsets as the best portable cameras in the world.

As such, Kuo says Apple will likely forego rear-side TOF in 2019, instead relying on a dual-camera system first introduced with iPhone 7 Plus in 2016.

"We believe that iPhone's dual-camera can simulate and offer enough distance/depth information necessary for photo-taking; it is therefore unnecessary for the 2H19 new iPhone models to be equipped with a rear-side ToF," Kuo says.

Rumors of a rear-facing TrueDepth-style camera date back to last July, when reports claimed Apple planned to debut a rear-facing VCSEL system for AR applications and faster camera autofocus. That solution was due to arrive in what would become iPhone X, but Apple's flagship smartphone uses a single VCSEL module in its front-facing TrueDepth camera array.

Unlike TrueDepth, which measures distortion in structured light, a TOF system calculates the time it takes pulses of light to travel to and from a target. Such systems allow for extremely accurate depth mapping and can therefore assist in AR applications.

The July rumor was followed by a second report in November claiming much the same, while analysts jumped on the bandwagon in February.