iPhones might not get periscope cameras until 2023 or later

iPhone 12 Pro review
The iPhone 12 Pro (Image credit: TechRadar)

As good as the cameras are on the iPhone 12 range, there’s one area where they’re notably lacking – optical zoom. The most any of the models can manage is 2.5x zoom, while the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and some other rival handsets offer 10x. That’s thanks to periscope lenses, and this is a tech that we might not see in an iPhone for a long time.

We’ve heard numerous reports that Apple is planning a periscope camera for a future iPhone, with some saying it could be ready in time for the iPhone 14 in 2022, but the latest report suggests we won’t see it until 2023 at the earliest.

That’s according to The Elec (a South Korean tech news site), which claims that getting the required tech is proving a tricky process for Apple, one that apparently involves trying to keep its partners happy and could mean paying licensing fees if Apple can’t find a workaround for patents.

If The Elec is right then Apple’s possible approach will be to get some of the components from Jahwa Electronics, which is part of Samsung’s supply chain for periscope cameras. However using this company’s technology could run Apple into issues with patents, unless it has a workaround.

The report alternatively suggests that Samsung's Electro-Mechanics subsidiary could supply some components to LG, which would then build the cameras for Apple, a move that could avoid patent problems and protect Apple’s relationship with LG.

There appears to be a lot of uncertainty as to what Apple will actually do though, and that’s the problem, as The Elec reckons that Apple needs to finalize specs and suppliers this year in order to offer a periscope camera in 2023. By the sounds of things then 2022 is off the table if The Elec is right, and even 2023 is in doubt.

A Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra held ready to take a photo

The S21 Ultra's long-range zoom is very useful (Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

Analysis: sooner or later Apple will offer periscope cameras, and they can’t come soon enough

Apple is often late to offering technologies in its phones, with a recent example being 5G, but the worthwhile ones almost always arrive eventually, and we have little doubt that the company considers periscope cameras worthwhile.

Beyond all the rumors that Apple is working on a periscope zoom, it’s just an obvious upgrade for a smartphone camera. Improvements to general photo quality are great to see, but at the top end they tend to be relatively minor from one model to the next, while going from offering 2.5x zoom to 5x, 10x or more would be a huge boost.

You might ask why you’d want to shoot 10x zoom photos, but there are many circumstances where they’re handy. Concerts and sporting events where the performers are far away, shots of wildlife (whether in the wild or a zoo), distant buildings, or just anything else you can’t easily get close to. There are so many potential applications.

That’s not to say more conventional 2x and 3x zoom cameras should or will go anywhere. Samsung on the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers both 3x and 10x optical zoom, so you can get the best of both worlds, and in future there’s talk of continuous optical zoom on phones, which would allow you to move from 1x to the maximum zoom level optically, so you can zoom to numerous distances.

All of which is to say periscope zoom is almost certainly coming to the iPhone range, and it will be worth the wait. With all Apple’s money and power we wouldn’t count it out in 2023 or even 2022 either, though the latter is looking less likely at this point.

Via PocketNow

James Rogerson

James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to 3G.co.uk, 4G.co.uk and 5G.co.uk and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.