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1 Feature Apple Will Likely Bring to Its 2018 iPhones

By Ashraf Eassa – Dec 13, 2017 at 5:00PM

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A new chip release from Qualcomm tells us about the future of iPhone video capture.

Wireless-chip giant Qualcomm (QCOM -1.17%) recently announced a new mobile processor known as the Snapdragon 845. The chip is likely to power most of the major Android-based flagship smartphones that launch over the next year, so the capabilities of the chip give us insight into what features next year's flagship Android devices could include. 

Apple (AAPL -1.26%), of course, doesn't use Qualcomm's mobile processors. It designs its own chips, known as the A-series chips, and it doesn't disclose the features of a given processor until it's part of an announced device. 

Nevertheless, the Snapdragon 845 appears to support a feature that this year's A11 Bionic chip doesn't. So it seems likely Apple will build this feature into its A12 chip and thus it will be part of the next-generation iPhones. Let's look at this feature the Snapdragon 845 can handle that the A11 Bionic can't. 

Apple's iPhone SE seen from front, back, and side.

Image source: Apple.

HDR video capture

One of the big new features of this year's iPhones was the ability to shoot videos in 4K at 60 frames per second. A big new feature that was specific to the iPhone X -- the highest-end of the three new iPhones that Apple introduced this year -- was the inclusion of a high dynamic range, or HDR, display. 

To see the benefits of an HDR display, you need content designed specifically for HDR displays. The benefit of such content displayed on an HDR display is simple: better image quality. 

"In a nutshell, HDR displays will appear brighter and more colorful when playing back supporting media," Android Authority explains . 

It was a bit puzzling to see that while the display on the iPhone X supports HDR video, the camera on the iPhone X can't produce HDR video. 

Qualcomm says the Snapdragon 845 can work to capture HDR video at 4K resolution and a frame rate of 60 frames per second, and I'd expect that next year's A12 chip -- and, by extension, next year's new iPhones -- will be able to do the same. 

What needs to be improved?

The frame rate at which a smartphone's camera can capture content, as well as the quality, is highly dependent on a processor that's embedded inside of a smartphone's applications processor, known as the image signal processor, or ISP. 

Apple will need to improve the ISP inside the A12 compared with the one inside the A11 Bionic. It needs to be more powerful to handle the increased difficulty of capturing high frame-rate video in HDR. 

Apple's iPhone X.

Image source: Apple.

This shouldn't be too difficult for the Apple chip team, and because the A12 should be built using a denser, more efficient chip manufacturing technology, I don't think adding this capability, as well as others, is likely to increase power draw of the chip. I also expect that Apple will introduce a new generation of image sensors for next year's iPhones to help enable 4K HDR video capture. 

Will this be a huge selling point? 

I think improved image quality in still pictures and videos is an important selling point in premium smartphones. Moreover, since it's likely that only the Apple iPhones with OLED displays will support HDR content, the proliferation of user-made HDR content could very well drive demand for iPhones with HDR displays. 

That could help persuade customers, especially those who care about video image quality, to buy the pricier next-generation iPhone X or its larger counterpart -- something that'd help Apple's iPhone average selling price and its overall revenue story. 

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Qualcomm. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm and has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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