Industry consultant Futuresource says that dual-lens cameras are the next big trend in mobile phones.
Pointing to recent dual-lens camera phones from Huawei, LG and Apple, Futuresource says that smartphone manufacturers are placing more emphasis on improving camera and photography features as a way to differentiate from the competition and to encourage consumer replacement every 1-2 years.
The Apple iPhone 7 Plus dual-lens camera, for instance, supports core photography applications for both capture (shallow depth of field/bokeh effect and zoom improvements, switching between 28mm and 56mm with one click) and editing flexibility (RAW image capture).
In terms of consumer demand, dual-lens represented 2% of overall smartphone volumes in 2016, and predicted to treble to 6% this year. In the short term, Futuresource sees dual-lens as likely to remain limited to the most premium models for most vendors, but beyond this period, the cost of dual-lens components/production should fall and many vendors will incorpore this feature into a much wider range of models. Futuresource points to entry-level (£250) dual-lens camera models showcased at CES 2017.
The use of dual-lens is likely to support the adoption of Augmented Reality (AR) because two cameras provide the differing levels of depth required to create a 3D image/video. Google’s Tango software platform is one the first examples of consumer AR, and 3D capture for mapping surroundings could have many applications, including mixed reality gaming.
Other than gaming AR applications include iStaging, which allows users to position furniture in their home, and online shopping, where a 3D camera can be used to store a full body image on a smartphone and then users can visit the retailer website to try clothes on virtually.
Physical hardware challenges for AR devices with Tango software were seen in the first examples of 360/VR smartphone cameras including 2016’s ProTruly Darling, which utilises two wide-angle cameras, one on the front and one on the rear, along with sophisticated algorithms, in order to record 360-degree video and panoramic pictures. With this example, the level of lens protrusion is fairly discreet. But problems remain with the new Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, which is relatively large at 6.4” due to the amount of AR sensors required on the rear. At CES 2017, Asus showcased a smaller and lighter device - the first VR and AR smartphone with support for Google’s Tango and Daydream software.
Other than dual-lens cameras, Futuresource notes a slowdown in physical camera/sensor developments, with a reduced focus on megapixels, optical zoom, etc., and more emphasis on imaging capability, such as computational photography and enhanced data processing.
The report concludes that non-traditional photography applications such as AR and VR will continue to play a growing role in camera integration and technology development, versus core/traditional photography applications.