It is understood that Apple is feeling out potential supply and demand of “time of flight (TOF) module”, which measures distance with South Korean camera parts suppliers. TOF module is a 3D sensing component that calculates distance by measuring a time that light bounces back from a subject and recognizes an object’s 3D effect, spatial information, and movement. After applying TOF module for the first time this year on iPad, Apple is also planning to use TOF module for its new iPhone that is expected to be released this fall. As a result, it is looking for new TOF module suppliers in order to prepare for a possible increase in supply.
According to the industry on Tuesday, Apple recently visited multiple camera parts suppliers in South Korea and discussed about having them supply their TOF modules. It requested necessary data from them. A representative from the industry who is familiar with this issue told the Electronic Times that Apple sent requests for information (RFI) to camera parts suppliers in South Korea regarding supply of TOF module.
Apple first used the part for its iPad Pro that was launched in the first half and calls it “LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) Scanner”. It currently receives TOF module from LG Innotek. Companies that Apple recently got in touch with never had any business with Apple. This indicates that Apple is looking for additional TOF module suppliers in addition to LG Innotek.
Apple is showing signs that it plans to expand application of TOF module on its products as it is heard that it plans to use the module for its new iPhone that will be launched in the second half. According to the industry, it is planning to include TOF module along with triple-cameras on the back of its highest model of the new iPhone. It is heard that LG Innotek will also be the sole supplier of TOF module for the upcoming iPhone.
The reason why Apple is beginning to expand application of TOF module on its products is because it is planning to include an augmented reality (AR) feature in its iPhones. When AR is seen through a TOF module, a real image combined with a virtual image can be seen more accurately and realistically. TOF technology allows a device to measure distance and recognize 3D shapes more accurately.
Apple already decided on the suppliers that will supply necessary parts for its new iPhone this fall. Some parts are already in production. The reason why Apple is looking for additional TOF suppliers is because it is considering possible increase in TOF module supplies after this year. There is also a possibility that Apple is looking for more suppliers due to lack of TOF module supplies and low production yield.
Although nothing has been determined, it can be seen that South Korean companies are beginning to have more influence within Apple’s camera supply chain management (SCM).
Samsung Electro-Mechanics has begun supplying its lenses to Apple for the first time. It is heard that Samsung Electro-Mechanics has secured Apple as a new customer in order to expand its business. Apple chose Samsung Electro-Mechanics as a new lens supplier in order to stabilize supply and demand of camera parts and to strengthen its competitive edge in production cost.
LG Innotek is also looking for opportunities to have more influence with Apple’s SCM. The U.S. Department of Commerce recently imposed sanctions on 11 Chinese companies that includes O-Film Tech that manufactures camera modules. There is a chance that LG Innotek may benefit from O-Film Tech facing restrictions in supply and manufacturing its camera modules. LG Innotek is currently Apple’s biggest camera module supplier.
If Apple selects additional South Korean companies to supply their TOF modules, most of important optical components that are used for its products will be manufactured by South Korean companies. It seems that there is a growing level of agreement between Apple that is trying to stabilize its supply network for parts in the midst of the trade conflict between the U.S. and China and South Korean companies that are equipped with technological skills.
Staff Reporter Yun, Geonil | email@example.com