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New Apple patent dreams of true zoom and a better light splitter for the iPhone

IPhone 6 Plus studio back camera2
Image used with permission by copyright holder
Although the iPhone has one of the best smartphone cameras around, there’s always room for improvement. Recently, Apple added Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) technology to its iPhone 6 Plus, and now it seems the company may have an even bigger hardware-based camera update coming soon. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has just approved a new patent for what can be considered a true zoom lens and a light splitter.

The new patent, which was spotted by Patently Apple, would build upon the existing OIS tech in the iPhone 6 Plus by adding a color-splitting cube. The OIS technology already adjusts to compensate for both shaky hands and low-light conditions. It also already blends both long- and short-exposure images to reduce the appearance of motion in photos, while also bringing out the best of an image in low light.

Theoretically, the color-splitting cube would enhance photographic accuracy even further with improvements to contrast and the visibility of subjects in what are called “scattering media,” meaning such things as clouds, fog, rain, and snow. According to the patent, the color-splitter cube would have to be very advanced in order to work with the true zoom lens Apple has planned. The cube would have to split the light into three color components, and three image sensors would have to be positioned precisely in order to receive each color of the spectrum.

The patent goes into great detail concerning the zoom lens and how it would work with the light splitter. The zoom lens would have at least one moveable lens element that could be controlled by a motorized actuator to adjust the field of view via a zoom. If all goes according to plan, the zoom lens would be able to keep the subject in focus even when the magnification or focal length is altered by the user.

In other words, future iPhones could have a much sharper and more accurate zoom than ever before, as well as camera hardware that adjusts for atmospheric distortion from rain, fog, and the like. If Apple does add this camera tech to its future iPhones, the photo-taking capabilities of the iPhone could become even more impressive.

Of course, this is just a patent, so this tech may not ever make it into the real world. However, given that one part of the three-step plan is already on the iPhone 6 Plus in the form of OIS, the fulfillment of this plan may be on its way to the iPhone 7 or 8.

Malarie Gokey
Former Digital Trends Contributor
As DT's Mobile Editor, Malarie runs the Mobile and Wearables sections, which cover smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and…
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