Apple’s TrueDepth Tech Maintains Massive Lead Over Android OEMs

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We know that Apple’s facial recognition and 3D imaging technology, TrueDepth, is at least two-and-a-half years ahead of its closest competition. And while Samsung recently tried its hand at mimicking the TrueDepth and Animoji experience on its next-generation Galaxy S9 flagships, the South Korean company ultimately failed to create a product that even comes close.

Now, a new supply chain report not only corroborates the fact that TrueDepth technology is so superior — saying it’s a minimum of two-years in advance of any competing tech — but also seeks to explain why Android OEMs will be left standing in the lurch for some time to come.

Citing personal discussions with multiple Far East component suppliers, Reuters estimated in a report published on Tuesday that Android handset makers including Xiaomi, Huawei and others will likely be waiting until at least 2019 until some suppliers have reached the capacity to supply them with comparable 3D imaging tech.

Optical Filter Shortage

Viavi Solutions, Inc., a firm who produces optical filters required for 3D sensing modules, explained to Reuters how constrained supply is (and will continue to), for the foreseeable future, affect their ability to supply Android OEMs with capable components.

“It is going to take them a lot of time, the Android-based customers, to secure capacity throughout the whole supply chain,” said Bill Ong, Viavi Solution’s senior director of investor relations. “We may have a potential introduction of a second handset maker into 3D sensing at the end of this calendar year. (But) the volumes would be very low. In 2019 you clearly will see at least two or more Android-based phones.”

Ong declined to comment on which Android OEM he was referring to specifically, saying only that Viavi is currently in talks with “all” smartphone suppliers.

VCSEL Shortage

One of the biggest issues standing in the way of Android OEMs adopting TrueDepth caliber imaging tech, however, is the fact that vertical cavity surface emitting laser (VCSEL) modules are scarce — but nevertheless instrumental — components.

VCSEL modules contain crucial 3D imaging elements — such as the dot projector in Apple’s 3D modeling system, which also includes an infrared flood illuminator, as well as infrared and color cameras.

Apple has already secured a “steady supply” of VCSEL modules — thanks to its massive $390 million investment in VCSEL supplier, Finisar, who recently opened up a sprawling 700,000 square-foot VCSEL fabrication plant in Austin, Texas.

And while other component supplies in the Far East also produce VCSEL imaging hardware, in a nod to the exclusivity of Apple’s technology, the company said in a statement last year that its multi-million dollar Finisar investment will “exponentially increase [Finisar’s] R&D spending and high-volume production.”

“Each customer has their own adoption timeline and rollout plan, which we can’t discuss, but we expect the market opportunity for VCSEL technology to increase substantially in 2019,” added Craig Thompson, vice president of new markets at Finisar, via Reuters.

Other VCSEL manufacturers, including Lumentum and Ams, echoed those sentiments and suggested that it likely won’t be until 2019 that they’ll be able to initiate mass production of the sensors for Android OEMs.

Apple’s Leg Up

Based on credible rumors, Apple is currently expected to release at least one iPad Pro, and as many as three new iPhone models, boasting TrueDepth camera systems by the end of 2018.

While it looks like the world’s leading Android OEMs will be waiting in line for these components for quite some time, it’s worth pouring salt on their wounds and noting that by the time they’re able to even secure them, Apple will be on the cusp of its third-generation TrueDepth camera technology — which stands to not only be more advanced and “built-out” in comparison to its current TrueDepth tech, but according to rumors, will see ‘the notch’ be reduced in size substantially.

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