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Apple granted ‘multi-point touch focus’ patent for its mobile devices

Apple is looking at ways to further improve the camera functionality of its mobile devices with news that the tech giant has been granted a patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office for a “multi-point touch focus” system using a dedicated image processor.

As noted in an Apple Insider report, the patent, which was awarded on Thursday, explains how the system would allow a user to select – via a device’s touchscreen – two areas of interest in an image prior to taking a photo. The image processor would then work to ensure both areas are rendered in focus by selecting the best exposure, aperture and focal settings for the pre-selected areas. Automatic sharpening would also be applied to the image.

The patent says that when one selected area is much closer to the lens than the other, the system will select what Apple describes as a “compromise” focal point to ensure that  the chosen areas of interest are as much in focus as the conditions of the scene permit. If the user deems one of the pre-selected areas to be of more importance focus-wise,  they can indicate this by pinching that area on the touchscreen. The focusing technology will then work to give that area priority.

Another feature of the system outlined in the patent is motion tracking of the pre-selected areas. Exposure control of the pre-selected areas, which could be bathed in differing strengths of light, would also be possible.

There’s no indication as to whether any of these features will turn up on Apple’s next iPhone, which is expected to be unveiled later this year. However, the patent serves as a reminder of the importance the Cupertino company places on its mobile camera at a time when more and more people are discarding their dedicated compact devices in favor of their phone-based shooter.

This from the patent abstract:

A camera includes a lens arranged to focus an image on an image sensor and a touch sensitive visual display for freely selecting two or more regions of interest on a live preview image by touch input.

An image processor is coupled to the image sensor and the touch sensitive visual display. The image processor displays the live preview image according to the image focused on the image sensor by the lens.

The image processor further receives the selection the regions of interest and controls acquisition of the image from the image sensor based on the characteristics of the image in regions that correspond to at least two of the regions of interest on the live preview image.

The image processor may optimize sharpness and/or exposure of the image in at least two of the regions of interest. The image processor may track movement of the selected regions of interest.

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