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The iPhone 7 Plus might have two rear cameras

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A new iPhone is more than half a year away, but it looks like we're already starting to hear about what's going to be in it. The frequently reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said this morning that he expects the iPhone 7 Plus to include a dual-camera system on its back, according to MacRumors. The two cameras would likely work together to form a single high-quality image, rather than producing separate images or being used for 3D image capture. Kuo also believes the two-camera design might somehow enable optical zoom, allowing the phone to narrow its field of view without losing image quality.

Could Apple offer multiple models of the iPhone 7 Plus?

One of the other interesting points in Kuo's research note is that he says two versions of the iPhone 7 Plus are in development: one with a dual-camera system and one with a standard single camera on its back. That could mean that Apple still hasn't decided if the dual-camera setup is ready to go to market, but Kuo seems to think that it might mean Apple will offer both configurations. There will be "supply chain constraints" on the dual-camera modules, he predicts, and so Apple may opt to sell the dual-camera model as a more expensive option. Never doubt that Apple will pass up an opportunity to increase its average selling price, but this would be the first time that Apple has offered multiple hardware configurations for a specific model of phone (discounting storage and color, of course). It's not as though supply chain constraints haven't factored into iPhone launches before, and without leading to multiple models.

As with any early Apple leak, the predictions above may not ultimately be what Apple decides on. But signs have been pointing in this direction. In late 2014, Apple pundit John Gruber mentioned that he'd heard about work on a dual-camera system for a future iPhone. Then, last spring, Apple purchased a company that specialized in multi-camera systems. Finally, just this month, a patent application revealed some of the ideas Apple has been exploring for a two-camera setup.

It's not entirely clear how the system functions — MacRumors explored some possibilities after Apple's purchase — but the gist seems to be that phone would combine information from the two cameras to remove noise and improve clarity. The system also relies on smaller sensors and pixels, potentially allowing for a thinner camera module, which could prevent another protruding camera. Apple needs to take a big leap in camera quality if it wants to stay ahead of the best Android phones (they've already caught up), and it sounds like this may be its plan to do just that.