Apple has obtained a patent called “High Resolution Small Form Factor Camera”. While this doesn’t look like a deviation from the current iSight cameras found on devices like the iPhone, this new design can have a significant impact on the design. By making the image sensor concave, Apple engineers are able to compress the entire camera. The key to this design is that image quality is maintained, with high resolution image capture possible despite the smaller package size.
U.S. Patent Number 9,244,253 describes the size of the new camera:
The total axial length of the camera can be 2.0mm or less. The camera can be implemented in a small body size while capturing crisp, high resolution images, making the camera suitable for use in small devices.
Incredibly, despite being 2.0mm or less thin, Apple’s camera is able to use smaller pixels (less than 1.2 microns) while still delivering crisp, high-resolution images. In addition to the concave photo sensor, Apple describes three lens elements, one of which is designed to correct chromatic aberration. The patent also explains that the camera will include an algorithm to correct barrel distortion.
Apple is always looking to save space in its mobile devices and Macs. The concave image sensor can be useful in reducing or eliminating protruding camera lenses on current generation iPhones. The iPhone 6s is rumored to have a flush camera lens, negating the bulge found on the back of the iPhone 6. This did not happen and both iPhone models have the same external design. Apple could integrate the concave photo sensor patent in the iPhone 7, expected in September.
While photos of the chassis did not reveal the lens of the iSight camera on the iPhone 7, the next-gen handset is reportedly waterproof and features hidden antenna bands thanks to new composite materials. Despite the appearance of solid metal, the iPhone 7 would allow radio signals to pass through the case when needed. There is no doubt that the iPhone 7 will not be thicker than the iPhone 6s, but the camera lens might eventually shrink.