There's reason to believe Apple is gearing up to put an ultra-zoom-capable (above the current 3X) camera in the next iPhone. According to TheElec camera module maker Jahwa Electronics, which builds modules that combine optical image stabilization (OIS) and autofocus, gave Apple a grand tour of the South Korean company's facilities in Gumi, and Jahwa is now spending 191 billion won on building a brand new production line to support a new device.
Granted, these two elements - the Apple tour and a new facility - don't necessarily add up to Apple iPhone 14 Pro ultra or superzoom, but I'm willing to read the tea leaves. And it's not just me.
You need a periscope
Why is the periscope so important?
With the iPhone 13 Pro, Apple bumped up against the physical limits of linear lens technology, offering just 3X optical zoom while competitors like Samsung manage 10X.
The only way to deliver that zoom level is to increase the distance from the lens on the outside of the smartphone to the sensor. Samsung solved this puzzle by building a pericope design inside the phone that sends the image from the lens through a prism where it makes a 90-degree turn to travel a greater distance down to a sensor pointed at the top edge of the phone.
Apple can't get past the 3X (or maybe 5X) optical zoom threshold without introducing similar technology. While It won't build it on its own, it does make sense for Apple to work with a third-party supplier. It's also Apple's practice to demand bespoke designs and manufacturing from its partners, which brings us back to that new Jahwa production facility.
It might not make it
Can Jahwa build that plant to supply camera modules that might include periscope technology in time for the anticipated iPhone 14 launch in September or October 2022? Maybe not and most industry analysts, including noted industry oracle Ming-Chi Kuo), believe we won't see a periscope-sporting iPhone until 2023.
Still, an iPhone fan can dream, and, if I'm being honest, I don't know if Apple can afford to wait another year while competitors like Samsung pull away on the optical zoom front.
Greater zoom doesn't just affect optical options. As we've seen with Samsung, once you have a longer optical zoom lens, you can combine that with crafty AI and image algorithms to build things like Space Zoom.
When I tested the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra earlier this year, I was stunned at what I could capture with 30X and 100X Space Zoom. I don't think any of that would've been possible without the 10X optical zoom as a foundation. (You can see an example image above.)
Apple has long had industry-leading image processing. Imagine what it could do with a periscope-supported 10X optical zoom. By the way, the support of auto-focus and optical image stabilization, which Jahwa brings to the mix, is crucial as you raise the zoom level. Higher zoom - both optical and digital - means that every tiny move and hand shake is magnified tenfold and, without OIS and auto-focus, all your zoom images could look like a fuzzy mess.
An Apple iPhone 14 Pro with periscope-supported zoom this year or next is by no means a done deal, but all the pieces appear to be falling in place and, I think, Apple knows it's time to raise its zoom game.
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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.