Latest Apple patents reveal swappable iPhone camera lenses

Apple Patent Magnetic Lenses
For serious iPhoneography (credit: Patently Apple)

Apple has patented and created some strange, never-to-be-seen things in the past. Its latest creation? Swappable and clip-on lenses for the iPhone camera.

According to Patently Apple, the US Patent and Trademark Office published 31 new patents filed by the smartphone maker. Out of this pile one of the more possible design dockets suggests Apple could add a magnetic ring mounting point for additional external lenses.

This magnetic ring would allow users to attach an accessory with three swappable lenses on a pinwheel. The accessory might add a wide-angle adapter or a piece of glass for slightly zoomed-in portraits. Even a telephoto lens could stick out from the iPhone's backside.

We've seen these add-on lens accessories before from multiple iPhone accessory makers, however we wouldn't put it past Apple to put its own spin on lenses, just as it jumped into cases and iPhone bumpers.

Camera control

Beyond allowing users to attach different lenses, the magnetic ring could be charged with a small electric current to create a miniature magnetic field.

The patent theorizes it could use magnetism to add optical image stabilization, autofocus and zoom features to external lenses.

Autofocus is a must in the smartphone camera world and image stabilization has made it onto new handsets like the LG G2. However, adding lenses that zoom-in optically could bridge the gap between fixed focal length smartphone cameras and traditional pixel shooters.

Modular cameras

Apple, Patent, Cameras, Smatphone Cameras, Newstrack

Take off the camera lens and the whole back (credit: USPTO)

In an older patent from 2010 touched on in today's report and authored by Richard Tsai, now Apple's senior camera engineer, future Apple iPhones could have customizable lenses and detachable backs.

The new design could replace the traditional camera unit for a camera sensor with a removable back panel and optical components. The removable portion of the case includes the lens that could be swapped out for a different focal length or one with more features such zoom and image stabilization.

As we've said before, smartphone cameras are getting better and handset makers are increasingly turning to snappers as a key differentiator. It's rumored the HTC M8 will employ a dual-sensor camera for better focusing, and the Samsung Galaxy S5 is said to kick things up with DSLR resolution at 16MP.

Will Apple's patented tech make their way to future iPhones? Cupertino may be wise to consider it.

Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee was a former computing reporter at TechRadar. Kevin is now the SEO Updates Editor at IGN based in New York. He handles all of the best of tech buying guides while also dipping his hand in the entertainment and games evergreen content. Kevin has over eight years of experience in the tech and games publications with previous bylines at Polygon, PC World, and more. Outside of work, Kevin is major movie buff of cult and bad films. He also regularly plays flight & space sim and racing games. IRL he's a fan of archery, axe throwing, and board games.