Faced with softer than expected sales of 2018’s flagship iPhones, Apple will apparently try again in 2019 by augmenting two of the models with new camera systems — a decision that might increase the appeal of the iPhone XR’s and iPhone XS Max’s successors. That’s according to a Wall Street Journal report this morning, citing multiple “people familiar with the matter.”
The report suggests that the iPhone XR’s sequel will get a double rear camera, presumably with the same 2X zoom lens featured on the iPhone XS today — currently a key differentiator between the $749 and $999 models. While the company is said to be considering killing the LCD model in 2020, the 2019 version would continue to include an LCD screen rather than an OLED display, largely because “the planned LCD handset has been in the product pipeline for months and the plan can’t be altered easily.”
Rumors that Apple has been considering a triple-lens camera system have been circulating since 2018, and the Journal’s report suggests that it will debut in the iPhone XS Max sequel. While the report provides no detail on the three cameras, concept renders circulated recently via OnLeaks and Digit.in, showing a large block on the device’s back, with three lenses arrayed in a triangular shape rather than a straight line.
Conceptually, the array is said to be designed to support a Time-of-Flight camera system, capable of high-speed 3D scanning that might create volumetric renderings of people, objects, and nearby environmental details. The depicted “camera square” design looks unwieldy and decidedly unlike something Apple would do, but stranger things have happened.
One critical issue is that the sequel to the standard iPhone XS is claimed not to receive a triple-lens camera, leaving it in parity with the iPhone XR. Currently, the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are differentiated solely by the latter model’s larger body and screen size. A change to that philosophy would once again force iPhone customers to buy Apple’s largest and highest-priced model to enjoy the features of its best camera system.
In another potentially puzzling move, Apple is also said to be considering pulling Force Touch hardware from the sequels to the iPhone XS and XS Max, eliminating another XR-XS distinction “to cut costs.” Pressure-sensitive Force Touch hardware has enabled multiple iPhones to offer modestly appealing features such as animated Live Wallpapers and context-sensitive pop-up menus, but the feature was pulled for engineering reasons from the iPhone XR, resulting in minimal complaints.
With the release of new iPhones still many months away, it’s wise to take all reports regarding new iPhone features with the requisite grains of salt — particularly given recently troubled iPhone sales, which could spur Apple to make unprecedented last-minute changes to its most important devices. Even so, the changes are unlikely to be either large in scope or capable of addressing the iPhone’s most glaring omission in 2019: support for 5G networks, which will be offered in as many as 30 rival devices this year. Apple is said to be holding out on supporting 5G until 2020 as it waits on modem supplier Intel to produce a viable component for its devices.