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Apple's Focus on Securing VCSEL Lasers for iPhones has given them a two year lead over competitors for 3D Sensing Features



As a technology leader, Apple thinks about new technologies years ahead of time as Apple's SVP of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji confirmed back in November. Scrouji noted that "Apple is about focus. We focus on the things where we're going to just double-down and deliver." Scrouji further noted that Apple was already working on their iDevice chip for 2020. Apple's Israeli based PrimeSense team developed the TrueDepth camera for iPhone X and had been working and patenting their technologies aggressively over the years. 


When Apple decided to introduce Face ID and Animoji, Apple wanted to make sure that it would have sufficient supply of key components to make this happen, such as VCSEL lasers for 3D sensing. They worked with industry's key suppliers like Lumentum and Finisar.


In December Apple announced their investment in a new Finisar plant in Sherman Texas. Finisar's VP and General Manager Curtis Barratt revealed earlier this month that their VCSELs will be used for facial recognition, like Apple's Face ID, and beyond to gesture recognition and autonomous vehicles.


Apple will be able to secure VCSEL lasers because of the Finisar plant to ensure that their premium iPhones will be able to provide key features like Face ID and Animoji to more iPhones. Apple could also possibly introduce gesture recognition over the next year of two that is another area of technology that their Israeli team is deeply experienced in.


A few of their patents on this could be found in our 3D Archive. PrimeSense technology was originally used in Microsoft's Kinect – so we know that the technology already works. Miniaturizing the cameras has led to Face ID and Animoji thus far and is likely to lead to a 3D gesture recognition feature down the road.


Because Apple thinks so far ahead and secures its supplies accordingly, we're now learning from Reuters that "Most Android phones will have to wait until 2019 to duplicate the 3D sensing feature behind Apple's Face ID security, three major parts producers revealed, handicapping Samsung and others on a technology that is set to be worth billions in revenue over the next few years.


The development of new features for the estimated 1.5 billion smart phones shipped annually has been at the heart of the battle for global market share over the past decade, with Apple, bolstered by its huge R&D budget, often leading.


The 3D sensing technology is expected to enhance the next generation of phones, enabling accurate facial recognition as well as secure biometrics for payments, gesture sensing, and immersive shopping and gaming experiences.


Gartner analyst Jon Erensen told Reuters that "This kind of functionality is going to be very important for AR. I think that is something where you don't want to get left behind." Apple introduced ARKit last year supporting iPhone X.


Reuters further noted that "According to parts manufacturers Viavi Solutions Inc, Finisar Corp and Ams AG, bottlenecks on key parts will mean mass adoption of 3D sensing will not happen until next year, disappointing earlier expectations." This will allow Apple to expand on AR and introduce other features like gesture recognition before the competition can challenge them.


That means that China's Huawei, Xiaomi and others could be a total of almost two years behind Apple. In particular, Android producers are struggling to source vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, or VCSELs, a core part of Apple's Face ID hardware.


"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, senior director of investor relations from Viavi, seen as the only major supplier of optical filters needed for the 3D sensing modules.


Apple's effort to get ahead with the technology is the latest evidence of an aggressive approach by the Cupertino-based company to making the most of the technological advances its financial firepower can deliver.


The iPhone maker's $390 million deal in December to secure supplies from VCSEL-maker Finisar was one such move. Another is Apple's discussions with major cobalt producers to nail down supplies for lithium-ion rechargeable batteries that power its mobile phones.


Gartner's Erensen added that "Apple is always very focused on its supply chain. When it comes to new technologies like this and implementing them to new phones, it's one of the ways that Apple can really be aggressive, differentiate and take advantage of the position they have in the market. For more on this read the full Reuters report here.


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