mobile photography technology, culture and community
www.dpreview.com

Apple's magnetic solution for adding lenses to iPhone camera

32

Two patents, discovered by AppleInsider, show how Apple might allow users to expand the photographic capabilities of their iPhones. One describes a removable 'back panel' which contains different camera options, and another (slightly more plausible in the near-term) details how users might be able to attach 'modules' to their phones' camera lenses to provide different lens options. 

This latter patent (8,639,106) is called 'Magnetic add-on lenses with alignment ridge' and describes a means of attaching accessory lenses to future iPhone models using nothing more than magnetic attraction. Magnets would keep the module fixed to the phone, while an 'alignment ridge' would keep the lens centered. 

This image, from Apple's patent shows a 'detachable lens' mounted on a smartphone which includes a neat design for funneling light from the phone's flash (204) around the periphery of the lens' inner casing to illuminate a diffuser (806) creating a 'ring light' effect.

Image: USPTO

Apple has a long history of exploiting magnets for quick and easy attachment, and has used them among other things to replace latches in the closure devices for laptop screens, 'MagSafe' AC power connections and in the various 'Smart' covers available for its line of iPad tablet computers. Much more reliable than mechanical connectors for frequent use, magnets 'just work'. 

Patent 8,639,106 also offers some details on the possible 'camera modules' which might be attached to a future iPhone, including the tantalizing possibility that they might contain a 'ring light and 'multiple lens elements' including 'at least one moving element'. This element could be  moved by a 'voice coil motor' to provide 'various optical functions such as autofocus, lens zoom, anti-shake, or a combination of such functions'.

These images from Apple's patent show a multi-element lens attachment which uses a periscopic design to maintain a low profile when attached to a smartphone. Some compact cameras use similar designs in order to incorporate zoom lenses in ultra-slim form factors.

Image: USPTO

The patent also mentions an option for a periscopic low-profile multi-element lens design for 'lenses that require a long optical path and would otherwise project a substantial distance from the compact device'.

Although this all sounds very interesting, it's important to remember that like all similar companies Apple files many more patents ever year than it releases new products. Still though - we can dream. What do you think? Would you be interested in a magnetically attached 'camera module' for the iPhone? Let us know in the comments. 

Comments

Total comments: 32
LensBeginner
By LensBeginner (6 months ago)

Isn't there a magnetic ring already on the Nexus 5?
I think it predates this patent...

Comment edited 41 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Anderson Craig
By Anderson Craig (7 months ago)

An interesting idea if you wish to make photos for fun, because I guess even in the next 10 years the smartphones will can't make photos as a real camera... doesn't matter what we attach to him, it's a phone :).

0 upvotes
jmanzar
By jmanzar (7 months ago)

This is very cool. I wish something like this would be available for my Sony RX100.

0 upvotes
ThePhilips
By ThePhilips (7 months ago)

And how that would work in real life, since now Apple recommends to use a case with the iPhone?

This:

- Remove case
- Easily attach the add-on
- Shoot
- Easily remove the add-on
- Replace the case back

doesn't strike me as particularly user-friendly.

Alternative: Apple, go back to the old proven iPhone design! No more sharp edges! No more broken back glass! One could even hold the phone any way they like! And the magnetic add-on would work better too.

0 upvotes
iAPX
By iAPX (7 months ago)

I had that on my Fuji F10 for years, an accessory that is a magnetic circle with a ridge to attach wide-angle adapter on the camera.

Patent troll!

0 upvotes
MarkByland
By MarkByland (7 months ago)

Why not just buy a camera and a pack to carry them in?

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
KAMSA
By KAMSA (7 months ago)

Nope, won't by that

2 upvotes
wudyi
By wudyi (8 months ago)

Yes, I would buy something like that.

1 upvote
jcmarfilph
By jcmarfilph (8 months ago)

If you want to be serious in photographic business, build a real camera that doesn't need lousy accesories. Why would I waste money on a phone cam with mediocre sensor and capabilities and spend hundred+ to make it half-decent camera.

3 upvotes
ThePhilips
By ThePhilips (7 months ago)

The "real" camera tech still can't be made thinner than 10mm.

Gluing the smartphone to RX100 would probably produce the best result currently possible. :)

0 upvotes
Jake2046
By Jake2046 (8 months ago)

With 100+ billions in their reserves...and this is what they come up with? Apple seriously is no longer the leader in innovation. People just buying Apple products cause of the brand name.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
7 upvotes
DStudio
By DStudio (8 months ago)

Go ahead, pretend this is Apple's biggest invention for the year, rather than just a small, smart piece of the puzzle.

I doubt they had to put much engineering resources into it, yet it could turn out to be very useful.

0 upvotes
Eleson
By Eleson (8 months ago)

Are they trying to sneak in a patent for this:
http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/minoltadimagex

0 upvotes
srados
By srados (8 months ago)

You mean Sony?

0 upvotes
Frank_NZ
By Frank_NZ (8 months ago)

I thought this idea was already being developed through crowdfunding. Maybe its the same individuals. If not there could be one helluva legal battle coming up.

1 upvote
devilz666
By devilz666 (8 months ago)

There's no battle when one party is a giant and other just a new kid on the block. That is how apple plays anyways.

5 upvotes
Brian OReilly
By Brian OReilly (8 months ago)

Pardon?
Can you elaborate perhaps with an example?

0 upvotes
HiRez
By HiRez (8 months ago)

The periscopic lens is really interesting, but it would be a lot cooler if they built that *inside* the phone instead of as an awkward clip-on. Maybe if they make these rumored 5"+ iPhones, there would be more space for it.

2 upvotes
GatanoII
By GatanoII (8 months ago)

most rugged cameras and some sony slim models already have such design embedded, so the apple trick is to remove it from the camera/phone to get a patent (THAT MUST NOT BE RECOGNIZED AS IT BASED ON PREVIOUS DESIGNS)

2 upvotes
digitallollygag
By digitallollygag (8 months ago)

All of these "clip-on" gadgets are a compromise. Why won't Apple simply make a digital camera first that also happens to be a smartphone second, as an OPTION to the iPhone device we use now? Then they'd once and for all beat Canon and Nikon at their own game since those two are not particularly cutting-edge with connectivity...

1 upvote
quiquae
By quiquae (8 months ago)

A key reason for Apple's stratospheric profitability is their iron discipline in keeping their SKU list short. You can easily lay out all of their current products on a largish executive desk--let's see any other $60B+ manufacturer claim that! They won't change that strategy just to take over the rather unattractive point-and-shoot segment from Canikon.

Now, the DSLR segment is something else, and this is their baby step toward attacking that market.

6 upvotes
matutiten
By matutiten (8 months ago)

NOOOOOOO, GOD!!!!

If Apple fans are already unbearable with a phone that takes decent pictures ... imagine what it will be with a camera made ​​by Apple!!!!

3 upvotes
unknown member
By (unknown member) (8 months ago)

Funny, I usually don't hear Apple fans being insufferable jerks, but there certainly are tons of people who claim that they are and, in the process, only succeeding in being insufferable jerks themselves.

4 upvotes
TimT999
By TimT999 (8 months ago)

What I find "unbearable" is commenters who attack others just because of the product choices they make. Why call someone names just because you prefer a different product?

0 upvotes
Serenity Now
By Serenity Now (8 months ago)

Because you know like….Apple are like really crap and people only buy them because their Apple and yeah…like they're really bad and they're like lemmings and they all just are like really bad and…Apple are really terrible and anyway everyone says so. So there. Apple.

0 upvotes
wudyi
By wudyi (8 months ago)

A better idea, I agree!

1 upvote
eopix
By eopix (8 months ago)

Third parties already do this magnetic thing, to attach wide angle lenses for example. I have one.

2 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (8 months ago)

Me too. Picked up cheap in Japan. It's not terribly effective though!

0 upvotes
NinpouKobanashi
By NinpouKobanashi (8 months ago)

I think if you build support into the device in the first place, it works better than an add-on that's an afterthought.

7 upvotes
m43hobbyist
By m43hobbyist (8 months ago)

The flash aspect is an interesting wrinkle, though 3rd party magnetically attachable/detachable lenses already exist for iPhones.

0 upvotes
deep7
By deep7 (8 months ago)

Great idea. I'd be in - if the image quality was there and the cost reasonable. My experience with Apple suggests the former is more likely...

1 upvote
Wild Shooter
By Wild Shooter (8 months ago)

Love it, been waiting awhile, makes sense, but will they make it?

0 upvotes
Total comments: 32
About us
Sitemap
Connect