One of the iPhone’s biggest strengths has long been its camera, and a new patent application from Apple suggests how it could enhance that even further in the future. The application, first spotted by Patently Apple, is for a dual camera system on the back of a smartphone. Apple’s main focus, at least in this patent, is giving photographers a way to zoom in without losing image quality. The idea is that one camera would have a wide lens, and the other would have a much deeper focal length. Then you could switch between the two without losing resolution, as you would using digital zoom.
There are, of course, a lot of other ways that Apple could choose to implement a dual camera system. A 3D camera is among them, but it seems unlikely unless Apple also created a 3D screen to view them on. Even as a zoom system, there are more possibilities than just switching from one to the other to take photos. The patent application suggests that one could be used to take stills while the other records video; Apple even imagines that the camera app could stitch the two together, using the stills to highlight key moments. The cameras could also shoot at different speeds or different resolutions.
As always with patents, it’s hard to say how seriously Apple is considering this. But there has been some rumbling in the past about a dual camera system on the iPhone. Apple pundit John Gruber mentioned just over a year ago that he’d heard the iPhone could adopt a “two lens system” in the future, giving the camera “DSLR quality imagery.” At least one recent report, albeit of questionable veracity, has revived that rumor for the iPhone 7. The idea that Apple could dramatically enhance its image quality with a second camera still seems questionable, but giving iPhone owners a way to avoid using digital zoom would certainly be one way of improving quality, even if only in certain situations.