With the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) introduced a dual-lens camera subsystem, enabling features such as optical zoom and a simulated bokeh depth-of-field effect. Interestingly, although the primary lens in the dual-lens subsystem includes a feature known as optical image stabilization, the secondary lens does not.
This means that image quality can suffer in photos and videos produced by both lenses compared to those produced by just the primary lens.
Per KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via MacRumors), this is set to change with next year's dual-lens bearing iPhone models.
Optical image stabilization for both lenses
Kuo expects that the secondary camera in next year's dual-lens iPhone models will have optical image stabilization on both the primary and secondary lenses. That change, Kuo says, could lead to enhanced image quality as well as a greater range for the optical zoom feature (the iPhone 7 Plus only supports 2X optical zoom).
It's clear from Kuo's note why Apple didn't include this feature on this year's model -- significant technical challenges.
Kuo argues that the secondary lens will need to be redesigned to support optical image stabilization. Furthermore, he outlined two major challenges that Apple will face in trying to add this technology to the second lens.
First, Kuo says, Apple will need to "increase the image circle of the telephoto lens, which will lead to longer calibration time and a more complex assembly processes [sic]." Next, he argues, Apple will need to develop a "redesign of the telephoto lens, as an increased image circle will result in degraded photo quality around the corners."
Although this stuff sounds daunting, it's important to remember that Apple has dramatically ratcheted up its research and development spending over the last several years. This means, at the very least, Apple should have the brainpower and the budget to get it done.
Will this be a game changer?
Based on comments from Apple CEO Tim Cook, Apple appears to have underestimated the demand that it would see for its iPhone 7 Plus smartphones. Indeed, demand so outweighs supply at this point that Cook couldn't confidently tell investors that the company would exit the current quarter having achieved supply to-demand balance on the iPhone 7 Plus smartphones.
Clearly there's something that consumers like about this year's larger iPhone model. I'd wager that the inclusion of a dual-lens camera this time around was a significant contributor to the relatively robust demand that Apple is enjoying for the iPhone 7 Plus.
The good news is that by making an already compelling feature even better, Apple will, as Kuo says, "enhance the selling points of next year's new iPhone."
Offsetting that, though, will be a couple of factors. Firstly, the jump from a single-lens camera to a dual-lens camera is likely much more impressive to the general consumer than a move from a good dual-lens camera to a better one.
Apple's marketing teams must do a good job of trying to convince the average consumer that the improvements that it makes generation-over-generation are a big deal.
Next, it is likely that dual-lens cameras will become much more commonplace on competing flagship smartphones next year. In addition to highlighting to consumers how the iPhone 8's dual-lens camera system is better than the one found on last year's iPhone, Apple will also need to make sure its implementation is superior to those from its major competitors (and, if possible, market that superiority).
That being said, Apple likely has other major changes in store for next year's iPhone models, so it's unlikely to rely solely on an improved dual-lens camera as a major selling point.