Apple is drawing attention from the industries as it has begun looking for suppliers of “folded cameras” in order to strengthen optical zoom feature of its iPhones. Folded camera is a camera that refracts light like a periscope and has lenses and sensors placed horizontally and not vertically.
According to the industry on Thursday, Apple is pushing to introduce triple camera to its iPhones. According to industry officials who are familiar with a situation related to development of iPhone cameras, Apple is currently looking for appropriate folded camera technology and patents in order to strengthen optical zoom feature of iPhones and it already had a discussion with a particular company.
Folded camera is able to provide high-magnification optical zoom without affecting the thickness of a smartphone. Optical zoom is determined by the distance between a lens and an image sensor. Longer focal distance can realize optical zoom with higher magnification.
However, there is a limit to increasing magnification of optical zoom with the current camera module structure that stacks a sensor and an image sensor vertically as camera module’s thickness impedes with smartphone design. This is the reason why cameras bulge out of smartphones.
Folded camera structure like a periscope has emerged as an alternative way. Rather than stacking a sensor and an image sensor vertically, folded camera refracts light through prism and has a lens and an image sensor placed horizontally. This structure has started to gain attraction from industries as it solves the “camera bulging” issue and assists in increasing magnification of optical zoom.

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<An example of folded camera structure (Source: Samsung Electro-Mechanics’ YouTube channel)>

However, there is only a small number of companies globally that have commercialized folded cameras. Some of these companies include Samsung Electro-Mechanics that supplied folded cameras for Galaxy S20 Ultra model and Sunny Optical Technology based in China. Because it is reported that Samsung Electronics possesses key patents related to folded camera, some people raise a possibility of a partnership between Apple and Samsung Electronics or Samsung Electro-Mechanics. “Ball-type actuator is the key to folded camera, and patents related to the actuator are in possession of Corephotonics that was recently acquired by Samsung Electronics.” said one official from the camera module industry. “It is heard that Apple is not able to easily design folded camera structure due to patent issues.”
Corephotonics is a company that has its headquarters based in Israel. Due to the fact that it possessed many patents related to multi-camera and folded camera, Samsung Electronics acquired the company in 2019.
Apple currently receives its camera modules from companies such as LG Innotek, Sharp, and O-Film. LG Innotek is the main partner as it is responsible for the most amount of supply of camera modules. However, an impact that Samsung may cause by being part of Apple’s SCM (supply chain management) for cameras is expected to be significant.
Some believe that Samsung Electronics and Samsung Electro-Mechanics will not cooperate with Apple even when Apple requests supply of folded cameras. Because it is difficult for smartphone manufacturers to differentiate their products from others due to upward leveling and because cameras particularly are the most important feature for consumers, there is a chance that Samsung Electronics or Samsung Electro-Mechanics will not cooperate with Apple in order to maintain competitive edge of Galaxy smartphones. Another official from the parts industry stated that there is a chance that the management of Samsung will not agree to a request from Apple as such request can damage competitive edge of Samsung Electronics’ smartphone business.
Staff Reporter Yun, Geonil |