A future iPhone could have an in-screen camera - but probably not the iPhone 12

iPhone 11
iPhone 11 (Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 12 is expected to house its front-facing cameras and Face ID tech in a big notch above the screen - that's how the last few generations of iPhone have been, and recent leaks suggest it's the same again this year. However subsequent models might ditch this in favor of something much more futuristic.

That's based on a newly-published patent discovered by AppleInsider, entitled "Sensing System for Detection of Light Incident to a Light Emitting Layer of an Electronic Device Display", which explains how the company could fit a sensor into the screen of an iPhone.

The patent primarily talks about light sensors for automatic brightness and the True Tone display, but the same idea could work for camera and Face ID sensors.

AppleInsider suggests "this patent application can't see Apple moving every element of the notch underneath the display", but the same method used for these notch elements could also work for cameras in the future. 

How it works

A few possible solutions are posited by the patent. One involves mini sensors between the pixels of the screen picking up light, and another is similar but with the sensors around the edge of the display. These are two solutions that would work for light sensors, but may not be enough for true camera sensors.

Finally, there's a solution wherein sensors are put in the corners of the display, and these could be slightly bigger than the between-pixel ones, but would still be pretty small.

As we've said, it's hard to know when or even if Apple will start to use this tech in its smartphones - patents only show a company is considering an idea, not using it. And even if the company does adopt this tech for its sensors, it could be quite a few years before selfie cameras are hidden in, or below, the screen.

Certainly it's too soon for the iPhone 12 to use this kind of tech - that's expected to launch in just a few days at the time of writing, just shy of the several years it would likely take to get this kind of tech working.

We don't know for sure what to expect with the iPhone 12 though, so there could be some surprises when that handset launches on October 13. Check back to TechRadar then to find out all about Apple's newest iPhones.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist.