Apple's front-facing 3D TrueDepth camera system was a big deal for the iPhone X's Face ID package to replace Touch ID. Apparently, the company is examining a separate option for the rear of the camera that could use a 3D-laser system in a move toward better augmented reality support in its 2019 iPhone lineup.
The new system would time a laser to a target and back to get an accurate picture of the surrounding area, according to a new report from Bloomberg. Apple would likely keep the existing front-facing system, which uses a pattern of 30,000 laser dots projected onto a user’s face while measuring the distortion to generate a usually reliable 3D image. Keeping both allows for the continued use of Face ID authentication, while the addition would be more for AR apps using the company's recently released ARKit.
Bloomberg reports that the laser system is still in the early testing phases, citing companies that manufacture time-of-flight laser sensors as Infineon Technologies, Sony, STMicroelectronics NV and Panasonic. The new system would likely work well with the new AR headset that Apple is supposedly developing.
Give or take some changes in the next several months, Apple probably already has a good handle on what it wants to do with its 2018 lineup of smartphones. The new system is too early in development to have a hope of reliably making it next year, hence the 2019 target date. Of course, that is barring any of the production delays that might occur, similar to what was encountered because of Face ID's complexity. Apple reportedly cut some corners on the system to get the iPhone X out the door quicker.