Apple Likely to Debut New iPad Pros with 3D Laser Cameras Next Year

Apple Ipad Pro 2019 Credit: Hadrian / Shutterstock
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Apple is working to release a new generation of iPad Pro devices with rear-facing, 3D time-of-flight cameras in March 2020, according to a new supply chain report.

While rumors of an iPad Pro lineup sporting 3D laser cameras aren’t new, this report does introduce a few new details and add a bit of confusion to Apple’s upcoming release timelines.

2020 iPad Pro

According to Korea-based website The Elec, unnamed industry sources said that contract manufacturer Derkwoo Electronics will provide components for the 3D sensing camera modules.

Those components include stiffeners and brackets. Notably, the sources say that mass production of those parts will kick off toward the end of 2019.

The 3D sensing camera itself is said to rely on time-of-flight technology. In a nutshell, ToF measures the time it takes to bounce a laser off of objects in an environment, providing an accurate 3D rendering of the area.

Next year’s iPhones are largely expected to feature ToF cameras, which could significantly boost the augmented reality capabilities of Apple’s devices and platforms. Apple’s ARKit platform makes extensive use of depth-mapping for tasks like virtual object placement, so an enhanced sensor could boost ARKit apps.

They could also increase the overall photo quality of future iPhones, since additional depth information could be used to “enhance” images or result in better Portrait mode pictures.

But, interestingly, ToF cameras are actually rumored to show up on the iPad Pro before they’re added to an upcoming iPhone generation. It’s just not clear when they will debut on an Apple tablet.

What About the Timeline?

As mentioned earlier, it isn’t entirely clear when the first iPad Pro with a ToF 3D sensing camera will debut.

The Elec’s report suggests that they will debut in March 2020, about six months before new iPhones drop in September of that year. That largely lines up with a Bloomberg report claiming that the first laser camera would appear on an iPad Pro as early as spring 2020.

On the other hand, Apple is also expected to refresh its iPad Pro lineup this fall. Typically, Apple isn’t going to refresh a specific product within half a year of the previous generation.

Still, it’s possible that the “March 2020” and “spring 2020” timelines are inaccurate and that 3D sensing cameras will debut on the iPad Pros released this year.

Well-connected TF Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo even corroborated that rumor, suggesting that there’s a 50 percent chance that upcoming iPads could adopt ToF sensors in the fourth quarter of 2019 or early 2020.

Alternatively, Apple could be refreshing its iPad Pro this year without a ToF camera. There’s a precedent for that, since Apple doesn’t typically debut new features on iPads before iPhones. (The iPad Pro’s USB-C port notwithstanding).

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