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Qualcomm: Your next phone could have an enormous 200-megapixel camera

The new Snapdragon 865 processor for premium phones include camera upgrades to make photos huge.

Angela Lang/CNET

Can you imagine a phone with a 200-megapixel camera? The iPhone 11's cameras boast only 12 megapixels, for context. But those massive-megapixel high-end phone photos could become a reality, Qualcomm said on Tuesday at its third annual Snapdragon Tech Summit in Maui, Hawaii. The Snapdragon 865 chipset will support a number of high-end phones in 2020, allowing for cameras up to 200 megapixels. 

If 200 megapixels seems like a staggering number, that's because it is. Dominant brands such as Samsung and Apple typically use 12- or 16-megapixel sensors for their main cameras. In 2019, it was the midrange devices from Huawei, Oppo and others that often adopted 48-megapixel cameras. In the past, phones with extremely large megapixel counts pushed the envelope, but never took off.

There's another reason you might want so many pixels in your camera. The growing popularity of telephoto photography and advancements in optical and digital zoom mean that people are zooming up to objects near and far. For zoom, Qualcomm says, the more pixels, the better.

Now playing: Watch this: Qualcomm unveils Snapdragon 865 processor

Year-over-year improvements in camera quality are extremely important for phone-makers, because they allow device makers to differentiate their products from the competition. It's well established that cameras are a chief deciding factor for buyers selecting a new phone. 

Chinese brand Xiaomi embraced the Snapdragon 865's 200-megapixel capacity at the event, announcing that its Mi 10 device for 2020 will use the 865 chip. Xiaomi's recently unveiled Mi CC9 Pro phone already has a 108-megapixel camera inside.

"With new technologies, you're able to take this phone with super, super high details, super, super high resolution on the camera," said Lin Bin, Xiaomi's president. "The speed of 5G networks will let you share these huge images on the cloud, and also share them with your friends." 

Lin added that Xiaomi will launch over 10 5G devices in 2020.

Published earlier this week and updated with new information.