iPhone with "world-facing" 3D depth camera may finally happen this year

There is still some uncertainty about the launch schedule of Apple's devices due to the COVID-19 pandemic but that doesn't mean expectations for the next iPhones would be low. According to the latest rumor, the next iPhone or the one after that will sport a "world-facing" 3D camera, the same 3D camera that has been rumored for the iPhone repeatedly for each and every generation and has so far repeatedly failed to show up.

The persistence of this rumor is both curious and odd. It's one of those rumored features that keep on coming back based on insider sources but iPhone users seem to be completely fine without it. In fact, much of the functionality such a sensor would provide is already possible without it but that's not to say it won't bring welcome improvement if it ever gets added.

A 3D sensor such as this would pretty much be like the 3D time-of-flight sensors that Android phones have had for more than a year now. It uses a combination of laser emitters, receivers, and software to measure how long it takes the laser light to bounce off objects and back to the sensor, effectively creating a 3D map of the objects in front of the camera. That's the same principle used in Apple's existing TrueDepth camera for facial recognition and bokeh effects with selfies. On a rear-facing assembly, it will open iPhone photography to more possibilities.

The 3D camera will naturally enhance depth perception for more accurate bokeh simulations, what Apple calls "portrait mode". For Apple, however, the biggest application might be improved ARKit functionality. This would further improve the augmented reality framework's accuracy, putting virtual objects correctly on top or even behind real-world objects in a much more convincing way.

Fast Company's source confirms that Apple plans to put such hardware inside its next iPhone but it's less certain which next iPhone that would be. Even Lumentum, which supplies the laser technology for the iPhone's front-facing 3D camera, is naturally remaining mum on the matter. Sources inside Cupertino are also unusually silent about grandiose applications that often accompany new iPhone features, casting some doubt on the immediacy of its arrival.