Apple patent application details camera design for thinner iOS devices using GRIN Technology

“On August 15, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a series of 14 original patent applications from Apple<' jack Purcher reports for Patently Apple.

"In this particular report we cover two distinct inventions," Purcher reports. "The first invention covers a new camera design specifically created for ever thinner iDevices and Macs. Apple could be first to market with a consumer camera using super advanced GRIN [Gradient Refractive Index Optics] technology… By using the GRIN material in the housing camera lens cover, the light rays are bent by the GRIN material before the light rays reach the camera lens. This bending of the light rays reduces the optical total track length (TTL) of the camera module and also reduces high Chief Ray Angle (CRA) such that the z-height of the camera module may be reduced while maintaining the camera's imaging performance."

Purcher reports, "The second invention is a new accessibility app that is tailored for Japanese and Chinese users. Considering that Apple's iPhone is the bestselling smartphone in Japan and is about to attack the Chinese market more aggressively with a new mid-level iPhone, it's only right that they begin to introduce more specialized software for these markets going forward."

Much more, including Apple’s patent application illustrations, in the full article here.


  1. Gradient refractive index optics. Very cool. I wonder how you make these things precise enough to not cause distortions? Maybe you could precisely cool and centrifuge a special mixture of molten glass. How about precise ion implantation to establish a gradient? This kind of lens would work wonderfully. I just can’t imagine how to make one.

  2. Yes, all is great. However, what about the indoor low light photos. Is there a proprietary patent that blocks Apple from using the existing technology used by every other camera manufacturer? Really? This is something that should have been fixed long ago!

    1. If Apple started taking better low light pictures, I would upgrade both my iPhone and iPad at the same time. I don’t even try any more. It is just embarrassing and I am a daily evangelist of all things Apple. I hate to do anything that tarnishes any Apple product. Crappy indoor photos do not help when other devices don’t have any issue indoors!

      1. There is only so much that Apple can do with a tiny sensor and miniature optics. Some companies are adding larger and thicker camera modules to their cameras in an attempt to differentiate them from the iPhone and the Galaxy. But is that what you want?

        Apple is trying to find clever ways to improve the utility and performance of the its iOS device cameras. The application of the GRIN material is a worthy effort at working around the basic optical limitations of conventional miniature lenses. You seem to expect miraculous, DSLR-level performance from a tiny camera. Why so negative?

    2. I find that having a good light source is essential to taking a good photo with good clarity. Therefore I try to have as much light as possible falling on the subject. If that’s not possible, then I don’t bother with taking a photo with a camera phone. I think you will find natural limitations to the optics when you try to take a low light photo, not least because the ISO on the iPhone camera is not adjustable and the lens has only a single f-stop. I wouldn’t expect miracles from an iPhone camera – it’s more as a convenient point & shoot than anything else.

            1. allow me to jump in with a few examples of why thinner can be worse:
              – compromised battery life (all mobile products)
              – compromised optics (all iOS devices)
              – increased material costs (iPhone 4 and up)
              – increased manufacturing costs (iMac 2012)
              – increased design time/cost (across the board)
              – lesser drop survivability (your mileage may vary)
              – poorer MagSafe connection (all newer MacBooks)
              – poor ergonomics (iMac peripheral connections)

              We can think of a few more that we’ve personally run into. Apple may be the best when all factors are applied, but their obsession with thinness does come at a cost in MANY other areas.

            2. Mike, as usual, showing he has the same lack of imagination as most of these bloggers.
              A thinner camera module does NOT automatically mean thinner devices, although the next iPad does look as though it will be.
              What it DOES mean is that it enables bigger batteries in existing slim cases, while enabling a quality camera to be included.
              Poor low-light performance is the natural result of having a tiny image sensor, with lots of pixels, which increases digital noise. This is something that affects all digital cameras, my Lumix TZ30 shows lots of noise in low-light situations, and it has a much bigger sensor than an iPhone.
              Fact of life. Get over it, and use it; shoot in mono, grainy B&W images from pushed ISO film have always had a particular appeal.

            3. That would be one of the reasons. Also, forcing the removal of an Ethernet port on the MacBook Air and Pro. Also, removing iPod out on all iOS devices with the Lightning connector. Every single Apple release of 2012 took away something I used, and added something I didn’t care about.

    1. Apple is clearly eyeing wearable computers. So you don’t even know what thin is until you see the future of wearable technologies. The bottom line is that Apple will be pushing for thinner devices for the foreseeable future. So get over it.

  3. I hate to admit it, but the camera on my iPhone 5 is the worst phone camera I’ve had, including my old iPhone 3G. The 3G pictures were lo-res, but at least the colors were pretty accurate. Every time I use my 5 outdoors, I get the green lines people reported initially when the 5 came out. Indoors, the colors are muted green or purple. It sometimes corrects itself if I wait a moment for it to adjust, but by then, the shot is often lost. I’ve thought of taking it in, but I just don’t take that many photos with it. I have a good camera I use for important photos. Still, it is embarrassing when people want to look at the photos I’ve taken, and they are tinted badly. I trust Apple has learned lessons from this crappy version of their camera.

    1. Do you really think all iPhone 5’s work the way describe? Don’t you have any friends or relatives that you can compare to?

      My iPhone 5 photos exhibit none of the flaws you reference. In fact, the photos are gorgeous compared to my old 3Gs, and even better than my wife’s iPhone 4s. Get an appointment and get it replaced.

      1. The iPhone 5 is the no. 1 ‘camera’ on Flickr for good reason: it takes great snap shots (in good light) and is easy to use. But it’s never going to replace the Nikon DSLR for “photography”. Currently the Galaxy S4 has the advantage of a stronger flash than on the iPhone so indoor pics look much brighter and sharper (if tarted up to buggery with color boost). The next iPhone is rumoured to get a better flash and f-2 lens and that should make it more than competitive.

    1. The “battery is shit” nonsense is just like the “gorilla grip” crap in the iphone 4.

      Just like there was nothing wrong with the 4, the battery life in my 5 is really good better than the 4 that I had (which was also really good) I easily get all day battery life and that is with LTE, wifi, and bluetooth on.

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