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Apple could include Kinect-like camera tech in next iPhone

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James Bareham

Apple is said to be working on “revolutionary” camera technology, which could be used for facial or iris recognition, augmented gaming experiences, and 3D selfies for the next iPhone. That’s according to a new research note by the typically reliable KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, summed up here by 9to5Mac.

Though this kind of tech might be uncommon on a smartphone, what Kuo is describing sounds a lot like the tech Microsoft popularized with the Kinect — the setup is even pretty much the same. Kuo says that Apple will build this technology into the front of the next iPhone, augmenting the traditional camera sensor with an infrared projector and receiver. (The Kinect is also composed of a traditional camera, an infrared projector, and an infrared receiver.)

Those three components would allow the iPhone to capture depth information, instead of just a flat image. That’s particularly important if Apple intends to use facial recognition as a way to unlock the iPhone, as it could prevent someone from using a photograph of a face to trick the device into unlocking.

The report also says that there could be gaming uses for the new sensor, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that it’s really just a shrunk-down Kinect. In fact, Apple actually purchased the company that first developed the Kinect back in 2013, so there’s reason to expect some similarities.

For now, though, the gaming suggestions are kind of dull. 9to5Mac reports Kuo saying that the camera could be used to take 3D selfies that could then be placed onto in-game characters. I’m sure Snapchat will figure out a better use for the camera in a couple hours’ time.

Kuo also says that he sees Apple eventually adding depth-sensing features to the iPhone’s rear cameras as well, though it doesn’t appear he has a guess for when that’ll be.

All of this ties into ongoing rumors that Apple is looking into facial or iris recognition for the next iPhone, as a replacement for or alternative to Touch ID, since the Home Button is going away. It’s still not entirely clear how this is going to play out. Plenty of Android phones have built fingerprint readers into other convenient locations — like the power button or rear of the device — and we’re yet to see facial recognition, let alone iris recognition, that’s as fast and reliable as fingerprint scanners. So if Apple is planning to use either of those as a replacement for Touch ID, and not just as a fun new feature, it’ll have to be pretty certain that this is an improvement.

Kuo doesn’t appear to comment on which iPhone models will get this tech, either. He’s been predicting that Apple will announce three new iPhones this year: redesigns of the 4.7- and 5.5-inch models, and a brand-new 5.8-inch model with a curved OLED display. That final rumored model would clearly be a higher-end device, and it’s unclear if this is the kind of feature — like the dual cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus — that Apple would reserve for its most expensive phones.