LG Innotek reportedly secures a deal with Apple for a future Periscope Lens for iPhone while advancing Liquid Lens Technology
A Korean report this morning states that LG Innotek has been chosen by Apple to produce its future "folded camera." This next-gen camera will allow the iPhone's optical zoom to vastly increase in strength. Google's new Pixel 6 Pro got the leap on Apple when they introduced their new folded optics this week that delivers up to 20x zoom.
Korea IT News is reporting today that LG Innotek, Apple's largest partner in the field of optics, is starting the project with Apple to install Innotek’s folded camera onto the new Apple devices in the 2022-2023 time line.
Apple was originally working with Samsung Electro-Mechanics on a folded camera component but ran into a patent issue with Israel's Corephotonics, co-owner of the Samsung folded camera patent, which had sued Apple over camera technologies in 2019.
Samsung acquired Corephotonics in order to introduce their folded camera periscope lens for the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the first smartphone to introduce this next-gen camera lens.
Apple had run into another issue regarding a folding lens that we reported on back in September. While it was known in September that LG Innotek was likely the candidate for Apple's folded camera, Apple was to secure "ball guide actuators" from Korea's Jahwa Electronics and Samsung Electro-Mechanics.
Politics were getting in the way again because part of that technology behind the ball guide actuators was integrated into OIS technology co-developed by Samsung Electro-Mechanics that could have run into another patent dispute.
It was reported in September that Apple had visited Jahwa earlier this year to iron out that issue. Apple has patents on record (01, 02, 03 and 04) that could workaround Samsung patents, though Apple could simply matters by licensing the required patents if need be to remove this snag in finalizing a plan for a folded camera lens with LG Innotek.
One breakthrough in the patent dispute came by way of LG Innotek successfully nullifying Corephotonics folded camera patent in South Korea by the local patent board in August which waved the way for LG Innotek to work with Apple on their next-gen camera lens.
Working with LG Innotek is a smart move considering that while the traditional folded lens mechanics seem to be under control at present, a patent appeal by Corephotonics is always a possibility in the court system. The good news is that LG Innotek and Apple partner Corning share patents on a next-gen Liquid Lens that could replace the need for a periscope lens.
For those who are technically minded, you could always check out LG Innotek's 2020 patent application 20200004104 for a "Liquid Lens," here.
For interest sake, one paragraph in the patent states: "With relation to a camera module that is mounted in a small-sized portable device and includes a plurality of lenses, it is not easy to realize an optical zoom-in/zoom-out function, an autofocus (AF) function, and a hand-tremor compensation or optical image stabilization (OIS) function through a method of changing a focal length by adjusting the distance between the lenses. One of the methods for solving the above problem is to make a lens using liquid, rather than using hard transparent glass or plastic. In the case in which a lens is made of liquid, the focal length of the lens may be adjusted through an electrowetting phenomenon. A liquid lens using an electrowetting phenomenon may reduce the size of a camera module compared to a configuration in which a focal length is adjusted by moving a lens (adjusting the distance between lenses), and may consume a small amount of power compared to a configuration in which a lens is mechanically moved using a motor or the like."
In late March Xiaomi unveiled its first foldable smartphone branded the Mi Mix Fold to take on Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2. One of the unique aspects of their phone was the introduction of a "Liquid Lens" which uses a motor to precisely manipulate a packet of fluid, in order to switch between telephoto mode (3x optical zoom or 30x hybrid zoom) and macro mode (down to 3cm). Xiaomi likely licenses this technology for LG Innotek and/or Corning.
While Apple is still planning to go with a mechanical folded lens to deliver a superior zoom lens for a future iPhone, they're also keeping an eye on the possibility of utilizing a liquid Lens alternative should that technology prove stable and viable over time.