Bye bye, blur—Apple to stabilize iPhone camera?


posted Friday, January 10, 2014 at 4:54 PM EST


The folks over at unofficial Apple blog MacRumors have picked up an interesting story today which suggests that good things are on the way for a future iPhone. According to a patent application uncovered by Unwired View, Apple has developed an optical image stabilization system suitable for, as the company puts it, a "mobile handheld device." Read: the iPhone 6, depending on how quickly they bring the technology to market. 

So what does Apple's patent cover, precisely? What's shown is the design of a camera module combining both a voice coil motor-based autofocus system and optical image stabilization in a single unit.

The image sensor sits static at the base of the camera module, which Apple notes makes it easier to manufacture, and reduces module size. Above, the lens is free-floating, able to move up and down, at right angles to the optical axis, and to tilt from side to side. This provides for both autofocus and stabilization using a combination of autofocus coils in the floating AF mechanism, and OIS coils in the fixed portion of the module.

Apple's patent-pending camera module, as shown in the patent application.

The result is a camera that can provide both autofocus and stabilization, while adding a minimum of cost and bulk to the design of a smart device. Given the difficulty of improving the light-gathering capabilities of a smartphone camera while remaining within the limited size constraints the public demands, anything which could potentially improve image quality (and rescue an otherwise-blurred image) is huge news.

It should be noted that this is, as yet, just a patent application -- there's no guarantee it will be accepted, or that it will make it to retail as shown. (We're simply speculating about the iPhone 6, as are MacRumors and Unwired View.)

There's a very interesting tidbit that MacRumors have picked up on, incidentally: the inventor name on the patent application. The work is attributed to one Richard J. Topliss, of Campbell, California, who is described in his LinkedIn profile as Senior Camera Technology Specialist at Apple, and a former Chief Technical Officer at UK-based Cambridge Mechatronics. The latter company lists among its product portfolio both optical image stabilization and autofocus tech aimed specifically at smartphones. Coincidence? We think not!

(via MacRumors and Unwired View)