2019 iPhone 3D sensor tipped as Apple amps up AR

Apple's plans for augmented reality are fairly well known at this point. What started with the launch of ARKit will eventually morph into a fully-fledged AR headset, but according to recent rumors, that headset is still a few years off. Since we may not see Apple's headset launch until sometime in 2020, what is Apple planning in the meantime?

A new report from Bloomberg states that Apple is looking to add a rear-facing 3D sensor to 2019's iPhone. Of course, the iPhone X is already outfitted with a front-facing 3D sensor, which aids in making Face ID as accurate as it is. Judging from the details in this report, it sounds like this rear-facing 3D sensor would be quite a bit different from what we see already implemented in the iPhone X.

While the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone X relies on an infrared dot matrix to map your face, the 3D sensor Apple is looking to develop may instead employ time-of-flight capabilities. This would measure the time it takes lasers to bounce off the objects in a room, allowing the camera to create a 3D image of the space around you. This, in turn, would enable more phone-based AR apps that wouldn't require a headset to function.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the time-of-flight sensors being made by a handful of different companies are still in the early stages of testing. While they may one day be easier to produce on a large scale than Apple's TrueDepth camera, right now it's too early to tell if the design and manufacturing process will be perfected by the time Apple is ready to start producing 2019's iPhone. Therefore, we may see an AR implementation that uses a completely different technology by the time that phone is on shelves.

Still, with Apple's planned AR headset some time off yet, this would be a nice addition to bring to iPhone in the meantime. As always, take this rumor with a grain of salt, but with AR support already present in the iPhone X, it certainly seems well within the realm of possibility. We'll undoubtedly be hearing more about Apple's efforts in the AR space soon enough, so stay tuned.