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iPhone 5 to get 3D camera, new patent suggests

A new patent from Apple has emerged, suggesting it's toying with using three image sensors on its mobile devices to capture a 3D image.

New patents filed by Apple hint that a 3D camera, potentially packing three sensors, might be on the cards for the next generation of iDevices. Sick of only seeing two dimensions? Love your iPhone? Read on.

The so-fresh-it's-warm patent comes via PatentlyApple, showing a three-sensor concept (pictured above). The 3D images are created by combining views from two side-by-side images -- exactly the way human eyes see the world. We've seen it before now on phones like the LG Optimus 3D Max and the HTC Evo 3D with mixed results, but this is the first time we've heard of three sensors being used.

According to the patent, two of these sensors would deal with colour while the third in the middle would handle brightness. It's not known at this point exactly how these three sensors would work together -- if in fact they do operate at the same time. But it's possible that the use of separate sensors like this could help produce a more vivid, rich photo than has previously been achievable by the current two-lens model.

PatentlyApple explains how this technology could be used for more accurate facial recognition, as the 3D sensors would be able to differentiate movements of facial muscles, That's right, the next iPhone will know when you're sad. It could also be able to scan 3D objects by setting the device to video mode and simply rotating the object in question by hand. If true, then I expect to immediately start 3D printing as many models of the lovely Emma Watson as I can fit in the office.

The patent also outlines the possibility of a more standard two-sensor system, although personally, I prefer the ambition in cramming three sensors in. Why not go mental and cover the entire back of the phone with 30?

Apple, and in fact most companies, often patent new ideas even when there's no intention of ever putting the technology into production. So don't get your hopes up for three image sensors in the next wave of devices -- although we have heard rumour of a 3D iPhone before now.

The iPhone 5 may very well be turning up in October, but given that it's likely to have been finalised long before now in order to meet production timescales, it's pretty unlikely this 3D tech will be present.

Would you like to see a 3D camera in the new iPhone? Do you care at all about 3D anything? Let me know in the comments below or over on our Facebook wall.