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Apple's 2019 iPhones slated to get better FaceID & Animoji cameras

TrueDepth camera in use in Face ID system.

Ming-Chi Kuo is predicting an improved Face ID system will be implemented in the September 2019 iPhone lineup, with the improvements in the camera intended to improve performance across the board.

In a note seen by AppleInsider Ming-Chi Kuo writes that he believes Apple will raise the output power of the flood illuminator vertical cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL) central to the Face ID system. The improvements will lower the impacts from invisible infrared light in the environment, making for a more accurate system.

The same report claims that "time of flight" will be added to the rear camera system as well, with it potentially being adopted by the iPad as early as the last calendar quarter of 2019. Kuo doesn't expect to see this particular improvement in the iPhone until the second half of 2020, though.

"Time of flight" will not just improve range-finding by a device, but has the ability to allow for higher precision on augmented reality graphics placement, as well as better photo quality. The better element will calculate how long it takes a signal emitted from the iPhone to return to the iPhone, allowing for very precise calculations for how far away an object is from the camera. This, in turn, allows for higher precision on overlays like an Augmented reality sign, as well as better image focusing and depth mapping algorithms.

The vertical cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL) is a diode with the laser emitting perpendicular from the top surface of the assembly, rather than a directional lens. VCSEL applications at low power include optical mice and laser printers. At slightly higher power, such as those that Lumentum is selling, they can be used as precise rangefinders, and texture mappers — and still be invisible to the naked eye.

Apple currently uses VCSEL arrays to power the TrueDepth camera and, subsequently, Face ID in the iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and iPhone XS Max. Sometimes referred to as structured light modules, VCSEL components make up the dot projector in Apple's 3D modeling apparatus, which also includes an infrared flood illuminator, and infrared camera and color cameras.

Apple's main VCSEL supplier Lumentum was founded in 2015. The company claims that its products are incorporated into "virtually every type of telecom, enterprise, and data center network." Lumentum's Chief Quality Officer Misha Rozenberg held a senior engineering management position at Apple between 1989 and 1994.