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Two 2020 iPhone models predicted to have front and back VCSEL rangefinders

The rear cameras on dummy models of Apple's expected new iPhones, with a similar design expected for 2020. Render by Benjamin Geskin

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is predicting that two out of the three iPhones expected in 2020 are going to have time of flight sensors, intended for photo quality and augmented reality applications.

In a note seen by AppleInsider, Ming-Chi Kuo believes that "time of flight" vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) sensors will be included on the 2020 analogues to the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. Kuo is also predicting that the company will ship in total 45 million of so-equipped iPhones by the end of 2020

Huawei is also expected to add the technology, but starting in 2019 at some point. In total in 2019 and 2020, Huawei won't hit 45 million devices shipped, falling short at 39 million, according to Kuo.

Existing Apple supplier Lumentum is expected to benefit from the shift, as well as Win-semi, Crystal Optech, and Viavi to a lesser extent.

Apple's existing 3D hardware, TrueDepth, uses a single VCSEL to project structured light — a grid of dots — onto a subject. By measuring deviations and distortions in the grid, the system is able to generate a 3D maps that is in this case used for biometric authentication.

Slight alteration to the technology and receiving sensors can generate depth maps by measuring the time it takes pulses of light to travel to and from a target surface. In June 2017, reports indicated Apple was evaluating time of flight for a rear-facing camera that would assist in augmented reality applications and faster, more accurate autofocus operation.

Rumors have previously suggested that Apple will use a smaller TrueDepth camera allowing it to shrink the notch on OLED screens, in conjunction with a seven-piece lens system for the rear camera. A more questionable claim is that there could be a China-exclusive model that switches out Face ID for subscreen Touch ID.

A recent rumor suggests that the Taptic Engine responsible for all of the iPhone haptics will see a revision in 2019, and carried along to the 2020 iPhone.

It is generally believed that Apple will have three models, all of them OLED-based, in 5.4-, 6.1-, and 6.7-inch sizes in 2020. Kuo previously believed that the 6.1-inch unit would forego 5G support, relegating it to mid-tier status like 2018's iPhone XR — but has recently changed course on this prediction.