Apple Starts Planning a Future iPhone's Cameras Around Three Years in Advance

Following the launch of the iPhone 13 models, Apple's vice president of camera hardware engineering Graham Townsend and vice president of camera software engineering Jon McCormack spoke with British GQ's Robert Leedham about iPhone cameras.

iPhone 13 Pro Light Blue Side Feature
Townsend revealed that Apple starts planning future iPhone camera systems about three years in advance of public availability, suggesting that the company began developing the camera systems on the iPhone 13 models as early as 2018.

"The planning has to start about three years ahead, because that's when we actually fix the specification of the silicon," says Townsend. "So, for instance, the sensor gets defined at that point and the A15 Bionic processor is also frozen. That's when we have to begin to talk with Jon and predict the experiences that we want. Obviously when we designed the new ultra-wide lens, we were going to deliver macro photos. But how is that going to work both in stills and video?"

All four iPhone 13 models feature a new Cinematic mode that lets users record video with a shallow depth of field and automatic focus changes between subjects, and McCormack reflected on the challenges of developing this feature.

"It was a long process with lots of windy roads, but like most profound things it takes a while," says McCormack. "We're not just looking at the depth of every single frame, but there's also this thing called temporal stability: as we move between frames with people moving, how do we make sure you don't end up with weird edges and stuff like that?"

The interview goes on to discuss Apple's environmental responsibility and emphasizes how far the iPhone camera has come over the years.

"We're not asking for the impossible, but we are asking that the camera achieves the best it can every year," says Townsend. "Over the past ten years we've seen a dramatic improvement, but there is no rest."

Townsend and McCormack also spoke with CNN Underscored's Jacob Krol, touching on the simplicity that Apple aims for with the iPhone camera:

"Long before you even hit the shutter, you just bring the camera up, we're looking at auto exposure, white balance, autofocus to make sure that we're getting all of the right information, raw information captured," Jon McCormack, VP of camera software engineering at Apple, tells us.

The Stalman Podcast also shared an interview with Townsend and McCormack.

Related Roundups: iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro
Related Forum: iPhone

Top Rated Comments

Jakewilk Avatar
4 weeks ago

Is design chosen 10 years in advance? I have been ready for something new the last 2 generations
We got an entirely new design last generation… What are you waiting for? A circular display?
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Unregistered 4U Avatar
4 weeks ago
Wait, everyone knows that Apple doesn’t make final decisions on what will be in an iPhone until a few days before their introduction! I’ve read a LOT of stories about things that Apple cuts at the last minute while still being able to procure parts, build and deliver millions and millions of phones within a week.

This is just someone attempting to undercut Apple’s well known miraculous abilities to produce devices with little to no lead time!

/s
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
satchmo Avatar
4 weeks ago

Incredible, did you know Samsung and Google only plan their cameras 1 year in advance?
No, but maybe you can point me to where you got that info.

BTW, Pixel 5 sold 7mil to iPhone 12's 200m. It's a bit easier to change yearly when you don't have to source parts and scale as much.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
n0va Avatar
4 weeks ago
CONFIRMED: apple will make iphones in 3 years
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
AirunJae Avatar
4 weeks ago

Great news! The day will come when iPhone will be able to produce great results as DSLR.
Gonna be a couple days before that happens, hard to beat physics! That said, iPhone photos look great on the screen of a phone, just need more data as they start to fall apart a bit when you view them on something larger like a 13" screen. This was one of the reasons I got a Fujifilm for photos of our kid, in case we ever wanted to print them.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
FlyingTexan Avatar
4 weeks ago

Scale also stifles innovation. There was a member who had posted a very informative article on why the innovation at Apple is slow. The gist was obviously “scale”
Innovation at apple is slow? They just blasted Intel and AMD out of the water with CPU efficiencies and capabilities, have the highest quality laptops, started a TV network, have built their own cloud storage, created their own OS that has integrated multiple OS's across multiple products basically into one, made a cell phone on your wrist that can measure your heart and vitals, and are building a freaking car.... what's your idea of fast innovation?

You can't pick and chose across multiple companies. Name a single company doing anything like apple? Just because Samsung put a 10x lens in a camera with more MP or Huawei had a full screen without a notch doesn't cut it. They build a very solid product and the people complaining about the product are missing the fact that the phone is only 1/3rd of it (at least for me). There's the phone, the integration with my other products, and there's the services. I started out using Android and hated iPhones back in the HTC one days. But there's no phone you could put in my hand that has the quality, innovation, and ability of the iPhone. Everyone else is just playing catchup and slapping a few gimmicks on it to try and makeup for the mountain of shortfalls. I keep wanting to go back to android and each time I try it just underwhelms and I'm back. The problem with apple is they've done things so well we take it all for granted, like the Messages app, that until you live without it for a week or two you don't really notice it.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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