New leaked iPhone 12 camera could bring big upgrades to portrait mode

iPhone 11 Pro
The iPhone 11 Pro from 2019 (Image credit: Apple)

Your next iPhone may come with a new and improved Portrait mode as well as augmented reality features, thanks to a new piece of camera tech that Apple is rumored to be developing.

Fast Company has received confirmation from a source close to the development of the iPhone 12 range that says at least one model will have a 3D depth camera on the rear.

This seems to be similar to tech we've seen on Android devices previously, but it's the first time we will have seen it on the rear of an iPhone. The report says it will be a combination of a laser emitter, a receiving sensor, and corresponding software to create a three-dimensional depth map of objects in front of it.

That may allow for far better Portait mode results as the camera can better understand the distance of its target and therefore improve the bokeh effect around them. It's thought this feature will be used primarily to make improvements to the Portrait mode, but it should also be useful for augmented reality (AR).

The TrueDepth camera that Apple uses on the front of the phone for Face ID is based on a similar principle, where it creates a 3D facial map of the user for an even more secure face unlocking system.

This isn’t the first time we've heard about depth sensors on Apple devices either. In fact, even the next-generation iPad Pro is expected to sport a similar feature.

While the effect can be simulated by using regular cameras, complex augmented reality applications call for more accurate information, which this tech would be able to provide. That's likely to mean even more of a focus on augmented reality apps from Apple as well.

Most top-end Android smartphones already sport a depth sensor of some sort that kicks in during portrait mode photography or even when filming videos. Otherwise, the utility has been limited. With advanced 3D depth sensors becoming mainstream, AR use cases are sure to get better and more widespread.

If this feature does become a reality, it will be interesting to see which devices will get it. We currently expect at least three devices as part of the iPhone 12 family in a similar vein to the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, so this may be a feature just for the top-end 2020 product.

The launch timing of Apple’s upcoming products seems a little unclear though, as the iPhone 9 has reportedly been delayed due to problems at Chinese manufacturing plants following the outbreak of the coronavirus, and it's possible that the iPhone 12 range will be delayed as well, potentially pushing it beyond the usual September window.

Aakash Jhaveri

Aakash is the engine that keeps TechRadar India running, using his experience and ideas to help consumers get to the right products via reviews, buying guides and explainers. Apart from phones, computers and cameras, he is obsessed with electric vehicles.