Industry News

August 09, 2016

Apple Heralds Dawn of Dual Lens Camera

Dual lens smartphones to become the norm, says Corephotonics

By: Junko Yoshida

MADISON, Wis. — Apple’s newly announced iPhone 7 Plus, with a dual-lens camera designed to provide both telephoto-zoom and depth of field features, is likely to set a new high in the industry standard for image quality never before imagined for mobile photography.

Although unlikely to completely replace digital single reflex cameras, Philip Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, boasted during the Apple event Wednesday, “This is the best camera ever made in any smartphone.”

Consisting of a 28mm wide-angle lens and a 56mm telephoto, iPhone 7 Plus’ dual lens is designed to offer 2x optical zoom, and up to 10x digital zoom.

In iPhone 7 Plus, a 12MP wide-angle camera works with a 12MP telephoto camera to create higher quality zoom. (Source: Apple) 

Later this year, Apple plans on a software upgrade that enables the same dual lens to provide what’s known as an optical “Bokeh effect” (Bokeh in Japanese means blur).

This effect brings pin-sharp focus to an object in the foreground while blurring the rest of the scene. The resulting image resembles one taken by a telephoto lens with shallow depth of field, a stark contrast to photos taken by the wide-angle lens currently used in smartphones.

iPhone 7 Plus will offer a depth of the field effect — to be enabled via software upgrade later this year. (Source: Apple)

The dual-lens camera won’t be just a nice high-end smartphone feature. Rather, it will change the course of the smartphone trajectory, according to Eran Kali, vice president of licensing at Corephotonics, a Tel Aviv-based startup founded in 2012.

He predicted that the dual lens will soon become obligatory in smartphones, and Apple’s competitors are catching up fast.

‘Cause for celebration, not confrontation’
There’s a good reason why Corephotonics is so bullish on dual lens smartphones.

Kali told EE Times that Corephotonics is “the inventor of the computational dual camera for smartphones” derived from its own IPs.

Apple, however, is not Corephotonics’ licensee, Kali said.

Refraining from discussing any potential IP issues, Kali explained that for Corephotonics, essentially an IP supplier, Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus launch is cause for “celebration, not a confrontation” [with Apple]. “We are glad that Apple… is not just confirming but validating our idea, which was once considered so radical,” he added.

Apple isn’t the first smartphone company to launch dual-lens smartphones. Both HTC and Huawei tried it, but neither used a dual lens for telephoto zoom, nor was image quality very good.

Neither model made much impression on the market.

Noting that HTC and Huawei lacked Corephotonics’ technology, Kali explained the difference.

HTC used only one of the two cameras as its main camera, deploying the second for real-time processing. Huawei, which reportedly developed its own dual lens technology, used it to capture more light in low-light conditions. “But Huawei’s P9 smartphone produced pictures only marginally better,” he added.

In contrast, the Israeli startup remains confident with what it’s delivering.

Since a private showing of its concept demo in 2013 and a public debut during the Mobile World Congress in 2014, Corephotonics has been evangelizing benefits of the dual camera zoom among smartphone vendors. It has picked up “tier-one OEMs” as licensees — all now designing their own dual-lens versions.

At least one OEM is expected to show dual-lens smartphone models at the Mobile World Congress in 2017, said Eran Briman, vice president of Corephotonics marketing and business development.

Although declining to name names or divulge any information as to how many licensees have already signed on, Briman noted, “We are actually quite well known in the mobile industry.”

Corephotonics’ technology
Corephotonics’ technology consists of both hardware (proprietary optics and actuators) and computational software (proprietary algorithms designed to run on a number of off-the-shelf application processors and GPUs).

While Apple has developed its own dual lens camera that leverages its application processor A10 fusion, a new GPU and new image signal processing, Corephotonics has had to design its technology by relying on processor advancements made by others. Those application processors range from Qualcomm’s Snapdrdagon to Samsung’s Exynos and those of MediaTek.

In Kali’s opinion, Corephotonics’ dual camera solutions — the company has three models — have already progressed beyond iPhone 7 Plus’ current status. He explained that Corephotonics offers 2X optical zoom, continuously seamless digital zoom, an optical stabilizer, better depth of field, and enhanced imaging in low light — all squeezed into the smartphone’s most constrained form factor — the height — at 6.0mm or lower.

To make it possible for Corephotonics to license its technology, the startup has had to develop its own ecosystem of vendors of chipsets, sensors, lens and actuators.

Corephotonics proposes a non-paying license (Source: Corephotonics)

The startup has proposed a non-paying license to suppliers of those parts and components on the condition that they only supply them to Corephotonics’ customers — OEM/device manufacturers, who will pay Corephotonics as licensees. 

— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times


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