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3D Cameras coming to Apple Devices in the Near Future?

Are we getting a glimpse at a future “one more thing” moment that will come at the end of a new iOS device introduction? Recent news of patent applications from Apple points to the possibility of 3D imaging capabilities coming to devices like the iPhone and iPad. There’s no way for us to say how far along they are in the process, but the idea of 3D photos and videos experienced on a retina display is, in a word—HUGE.

If I even somewhat understood the specifics of Apple’s 3D imagery patent, maybe I’d try explaining it here. But in short, it appears that the technology hinges on the use of depth-detection sensors such as RADAR, LIDAR, and Laser. These things combine to create something called “disparity maps,” and in the end the camera is somehow able to create a three-dimensional model. For a more in depth explanation, take a look at what Patently Apple has to say about the specifics of the patent, or have a go at deciphering this excerpt:

“In one embodiment [of the patent], the first imaging device may be a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor. The LIDAR sensor may emit laser pulses that are reflected off of the surfaces of objects in the image and detect the reflected signal. The LIDAR sensor may then calculate the distance of an object from the sensor by measuring the time delay between transmission of a laser pulse and the detection of the reflected signal. Other embodiments may utilize other types of depth-detection techniques, such as infrared reflection, RADAR, laser detection and ranging, and the like.”

… Up to now, the 3D experimentation we’ve seen on iOS devices has shown some potential, but in the end felt pretty gimmicky. You have to imagine that if Apple built this kind of imaging into a future device, they’d wait until they have it just right and can deliver it with some useful applications. Some potential uses for Apple and 3D imagery could be facial recognition and facial gesturing technology. And, of course, we know that the potential uses for developers in the App Store would be endless.

So after this major tease, we’re left wondering how quickly Apple could bring 3D imagery to the market in an iOS device. Will they beat everyone else to the punch? And if so, is the world ready to take 3D seriously?

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