2020 iPhone rumors: Rear camera to get 3D sensing time-of-flight capabilities
The 2019 iPhone models haven't even been officially announced yet, and we're already starting to see reports about what will be in the 2020 iPhones. We've compiled the most notable ones here, but take these with a big grain of salt. Even if these reports are accurate representations of what suppliers are saying, or come from moles within Apple itself, the company's plans can and do change. There's still plenty of time before the design and features have to be totally set in stone.
Update 07/17/19: A new report from Digitimes claims that Apple has plans to use VCSEL time-of-flight (ToF) sensors on the rear camera of next year's iPhone.
Time-of-Flight rear camera
A recent report from Digitimes claims that "Apple has reportedly asked its supply chain partner to supply VCSEL components for use in rear ToF camera lens in its mobile devices to be released in 2020, according to supply chain sources."
We've heard this rumor before, both from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman and Debby Wu, and in a research note from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
VCSEL stands for Vertical-Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser. It's a type of semiconductor that emits a low-power laser (usually infrared, so humans can't see it). It's used in a lot of consumer devices today for simple range-finding; to assist in augmented reality, Apple would use a more complex chip that fires a big grid of lasers, then measures the time-of-flight for that light to determine distance. Effectively, this would produce a low-res "image" where each pixel has depth info rather than color.
It's an efficient way to get a much more accurate 3D representation of the scene in front of the camera, which is useful in computation photography and especially in augmented reality.
Three models, new sizes, all OLED
As reported by MacRumors, oft-accurate analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reports that Apple will be sticking with the three-model lineup it introduced with the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR last September, but the sizes may be changing. According to Kuo, the new models will have 5.4-, 6.1-, and 6.7-inch screens, with all models getting the OLED treatment. That would bring the iPhone XR (or whatever it's called by then) up to speed with the other models.
Along with the XR's OLED upgrade, the other two iPhone models will also be getting new screens. The iPhone XS Max will be increasing from 6.5 inches to 6.7 inches, which is to be expected in the wake of the Samsung S10 5G, but the iPhone XS will actually be getting smaller. According to Kuo, the 5.8-inch iPhone XS will be going down to 5.4 inches, a significant downgrade from its current size. Kuo doesn't offer an explanation for Apple's decision, but presumably it would be to create even more space between the XS and the 6.1-inch XR. And it would throw a bone to people pining for the return of the iPhone SE.
5G modems on the way
As has been previously rumored, Apple will likely be adding 5G modems to the 2020 iPhone, though Kuo says the faster connectivity will be limited to the XS and XS Max, with the XR retaining LTE 4G for at least a year. He also notes that Apple is working on its own 5G modem, which the company hopes will be ready by 2022 or 2023.
Now that Apple has settled it's long-running feud with Qualcomm, it should be back on track to use the company's second-generation 5G modem in 2020 iPhones. When Apple was exclusively using Intel modems, its 5G future was in doubt, as Intel reportedly kept missing important 5G development milestones.