On the other hand, patent-based rumours should always be viewed with a certain degree of scepticism, since the majority either never see the light of day as actual shipped products, or do so many years after the public hope or expect them to. It's widely believed that Apple routinely files patents it has little intention of using, in order to head off or mislead competitors, and in any case these were very much at the concept stage when the patent was filed. Who knows how the company's plans have changed since 2011.
A more reliable gauge of near-future camera upgrades - since Apple has spent $20m on it, and is therefore rather more commited to the idea - is its recent acquisition of a company called LinX, which makes 3D camera sensors.
LinX's cameras are tiny, but the company claims they are a match for digital SLR cameras in performance terms. And their depth-sensing capabilities make them ideal for facial recognition and 3D-scanning, as well as post-shot refocusing. The possibilities that this would open to developers - apps that translate 3D scans into plans for 3D printers, for instance - are highly appealing.
Daring Fireball's John Gruber has quoted a source who claims the iPhone 7's camera will have a two-lens system that could help allow users to capture "DSLR-quality imagery".
A dual-lens design offers a number of advantages over the present (admittedly highly acclaimed) iPhone camera setup, including the option to add an optical zoom. It's also been suggested that future iPhone cameras will have better performance in low-light conditions.
For a real-world example of the technology, the HTC One M8 already features a rear-facing camera that uses a dual-lens system. (See iPhone 6 vs HTC One M8 comparison.)
In February 2016, further rumours about a dual-camera on the rear of the iPhone 7 emerged, but they suggest that the tech will be limited to the bigger iPhone 7 Plus and won't feature in the smaller model. Those rumours are backed up by Sony's comments about dual lens cameras: "Our so-called dual lens - dual camera - platform will be launched by, we believe, major smartphone players," said Sony's CFO. "The real start, the takeoff smartphone with dual lens camera will be in the year of 2017,"
Plus, Digitimes has said that Largan Technology, which is believed to be one of Apple's main camera suppliers, has sent dual-camera samples to Apple for testing.
Update (05/04/2016): It seems as if the iPhone 7 may feature a dual-lens setup, although if the latest rumour is to be believed then it may only be coming to the iPhone 7 Plus. According to MacRumours quoting trusted KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the top hardware upgrade due in the iPhone 7 is a dual-camera setup and that will only feature in the larger 5.5in model. "though many competing models with dual-camera will launch soon, joining others already on the market; first impressions could underwhelm".
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