All things modern.
Most people can still remember the ‘one more thing’ technique which Steve Jobs used to great effect when introducing new products. Steve isn’t doing Apple presentations anymore but there is one more thing that is technical possible, isn’t available on any other smartphone and would have made the iPhone 5S the revolutionary device that Apple now needs if it wants to survive in the face of fierce competition from Samsung specifically and Android in general.
The 2013 performance upgrades are impressive but believe it or not most consumers did not watch the iPhone special event and wouldn’t know the difference between an A7 SOC and a bag of crisps. What they would be aware of though is the new user interface (love it or hate it), the fingerprint scanner and the improved camera. The camera in particular is a nice innovation. Instead of introducing more pixels or including software to do fancy things with your photos, the iPhone has taken an approach no other manufacturer had taken and one which promises to greatly improve the low light flash photos we take. The new dual led design of course incorporates a warm and cool LED, the software varying the intensities depending on ambient lighting conditions. This results in flash photos that look much more realistic.
But Apple could have taken it one step further, truly leaving all other smartphone and even point-and-shoot consumer cameras in its dust. What could this be? A number of years ago, Sony introduced a unique feature in its camera line up which made use of a side effect of imaging sensors namely their extremely good response to infrared light. The affinity for light of this wavelength is so much greater than that for light in the visible spectrum that all digital cameras must incorporate an infrared filter into the lens system. Sony’s stroke of brilliance was to make this filter movable thereby enabling the sensor to record infrared images in total darkness, a system they called nightshot. To supplement the system, Sony added an infrared illumination LED and a laser hologram auto focus assist system. Sony unfortunately stopped making cameras with these features but the concept is proven and several do-it-your-selfers are taking matters into their own hands.
The Sony DSC-V3 and DSC F828 below were the last still cameras to feature the nightshot.
The only technical limitation to incorporation into a smartphone would be the physical space required to implement. Adding another LED may not be too much of an issue, but to incorporate a movable infrared filter into the lens system would increase the size of that module quite considerably, possibly to twice its size. Apple does not yet have an appetite for camera bulges on its smartphones. Assuming that the camera module could remain the same thickness, the only physical appearance change would be the addition of another LED next to the lens as in my mock-up below.
Clearly there are a few challenges to overcome, but what a smartphone camera that would be.