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Apple patent hints at dual 3D cameras and 3D display for the iPhone 5

Apple may be considering joining the 3D brigade. It's filed a patent relating to 3D photography using two cameras in a handheld device like the iPhone.

Apple may be considering giving future iPhones a 3D spin, judging by a patent filed in the US that relates to 3D photography. The patent is titled 'Systems and methods for an imaging system using multiple image sensors', and promises a 'paradigm shift' from existing ways of tackling the challenge of shooting 3D pics.

AppleInsider unearthed the patent filing, which is packed with tongue-rolling phrases like 'deterministic calculation for stereo disparity compensation'. Don't worry, this will be boiled down to 'magic' by the time any such technology makes it into the iPhone 5 or future models.

The point, though, is that Apple's patent refers to devices capable of taking still photographs and shooting video in 3D, using dual-camera hardware. It also suggests that setting up and calibrating this hardware would only have to be done once, and would be a simple process -- something that clearly fits into Apple's ethos.

The patent was filed in September 2009. This year may be just the time for the technology to make its way into an iPhone -- and possibly an iPod touch and iPad too. Nintendo has just launched its 3DS, and is making plenty of noise about the device's ability to not only show 3D content on its screen, but also take 3D photos using its pair of rear-facing cameras.

Some of Apple's smart-phone rivals are also piling into 3D -- LG in particular. It announced the LG Optimus 3D Android handset at Mobile World Congress this year. That phone has a 4.3-inch, 3D-capable display, and two 5-megapixel cameras on the rear for shooting 3D photos and videos.

Apple hasn't traditionally rushed to introduce technologies just because its rivals offer them -- remember the lack of MMS and 3G in the original iPhone, the missing camera in the first iPad, and the current uncertainty about whether it will match Google and RIM in making NFC a feature in its next handset.

Still, 3D iOS devices will make sense at some point, especially if Apple sees an opportunity to sell 3D films through its iTunes Store.