Last month was a tense month for the engineers and designers on Apple’s iPhone team with “a sense of panic in the air,” a source with knowledge of the situation tells me.
Earlier it was revealed Apple is struggling to get wireless charging working on the iPhone 8. A tentpole feature, it will bring the iPhone range in line with rivals and is the number one reason Apple has switched the entire chassis from aluminium to more fragile glass. Without wireless charging the move would look ridiculous.
But this is only the start. Riffing further on Apple’s pain today is Fast Company which says there is “a sense of panic” at Apple right now.
The consistently reliable site reports further iPhone 8 problems exist with the integration of Touch ID into the display, the supply of OLED for the display itself and operation of the new front facing “3D sensor” camera – which will bring unlocking via facial recognition.
Earlier reports said that Apple was struggling to find a good place for the Touch ID fingerprint reader, now that almost the entire front of the phone will be taken up by display. One report today says Apple is still finalizing plans on the location of Touch ID, after months of trying different solutions, including embedding the sensor below the OLED display.
In fact these problems are reported to be so severe that several of the functions will not be available when the phone launches, forcing Apple to enable them later via a software update (John Gruber seconds this). A similar route was taken with Portrait Mode on the iPhone 7 Plus, but these faults would be a far bigger deal.
“By all accounts, it’s late in the game for Apple to be wrestling with problems as big as those described above,” concludes Fast Company and that’s certainly true. With mass manufacturing usually starting three months prior to release (and a September unveiling locked in stone) solutions are needed, and quickly.
Feature Rear-Facing 3D Laser for Improved Autofocus and AR
Reports from Fast Company, citing a source with knowledge of the company’s plans.
The iPhone 8 is said to use a VCSEL (vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser) system for the rear camera, which analysts have previously speculated could be added to the device. There’s also been some evidence that Apple has been sourcing VCSEL components from companies like Lumentum and Finisar, and Fast Company says Apple has tapped both companies along with II-VI for sensors.
VCSEL would offer faster and more accurate depth measurements for augmented reality purposes, along with speedier autofocusing when taking a photograph.
VCSEL laser systems calculate the distance the light travels from the laser to the target and back to the sensor, and generate a Time of Flight (TOF) measurement. The system consists of a source (the VCSEL laser), a lens, detector (sensor), and a processor. The whole thing costs about $2 per phone, our source says.
That Apple is working on improved augmented reality hardware for the iPhone 8 is no surprise given the focus on augmented reality and ARKit in iOS 11. New 3D camera technology was rumored for the rear-facing camera as early as November of 2016, and multiple design leaks point towards a revamped vertical dual-lens camera, suggesting a major camera revamp. The front-facing camera is also expected to include a new 3D sensor that would enable facial recognition.
According to Fast Company‘s source, the VCSEL system for the rear-facing camera is “probably intended” for the upcoming iPhone 8, but its inclusion “depends on the progress” Apple engineers make integrating it into the iPhone.
The source that Fast Company has spoken to believes iPhone features “can remain fluid until deep in the summer” ahead of an iPhone launch, though it seems more logical that work on the iPhone 8 is complete as we are just two months away from its prospective September introduction. Given the many rumors of a major camera redesign and previous rumors pointing towards 3D capabilities, a VCSEL laser system is a reasonable feature to expect to see in the device.