Apple's superzoom camera for iPhone reemerges — will it be ready for iPhone 13?

iPhone 12 Pro Max rear camera array
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The iPhone 13 is certainly one of the most anticipated smartphones of 2021 with a number of upgrades possible for the display, the processor and of course, the cameras.

Further support for one much sought-after upgrade was identified by Patently Apple. Which uncovered some information thanks to a US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) patent application filed by Apple for a "camera with folded optics." If you're unfamiliar, it's the tech used to create superzoom lenses in smartphones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Apple appears to have leapfrogged Google in the smartphone camera race for now. However, multiple rumors suggest some serious improvements coming to the iPhone 13 ultrawide camera. Still, Samsung retains an advantage in some regards.

This is thanks to the fantastic reach it offers with 10x optical zoom in the aforementioned Galaxy S21 Ultra. Samsung and other smartphone manufacturers have leveraged periscope (a.k.a. folded optics) technology in the last few years to vastly expand the zoom range possible in a smartphone through the use of prisms. 

Apple patent diagram for a camera with folded optics

(Image credit: Patently Apple/USPTO)

Despite patents on periscope lens cameras filed from 2014 to 2016, the company has apparently been unable to get around other existing patents. Last year, we saw reports that Apple was looking for folding camera suppliers. So whether this new filing points to Apple having cracked the problem somehow or simply more defensive patents isn't clear.

Regardless of whether it can produce its own designs or license through others, the ever-reliable analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, weighed in on the subject of an iPhone with a periscope lens back in July of last year in an investor note covered by MacRumors. Based on his supply chain sources, he believed that it would not arrive until 2022, so iPhone fans hoping for a superzoom may still have a long wait ahead.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.