Counterclockwise: counting cameras as single camera phones are on the way out

Peter, 17 February 2019

We’re at a turning point – as of last year, over half of new phone models have a dual camera on their backs. The last time something like this happened was in 2003, except then the switchover was from “no camera” to “one camera”.

If you look closely, you’ll see the green sprout that starts in 2017 and stretches to 2018 – this represents the phones with a triple rear camera. We expect the number to grow this year and keep getting bigger and bigger as time goes on.

We don’t see this trend reversing. Mechanical zoom is unfeasible on current mobile. Also, utility modules – things like depth and 3D ToF sensors – are difficult to build into the main camera.

Mutli-camera phones are here to stay and some years from now the chart’s lines will intersect again. We suspect it will be the red line (1 camera) and green line (3 cameras) that cross first. Cost and physical space limitations within the phone’s chassis might slow down the rise of quad camera phones.

Let’s turn the phones over and look at their selfie cameras. You’ll notice that this chart is almost symmetrical (the one above is too, have another look at it). That’s because for a long time having a selfie camera was a binary decision: yes or no.

We counted both featurephones and smartphones, so it took until 2012 for the selfie-taking phones to take over. This also explains the weird dip in 2010, a gaggle of cheap feature phones skewed the statistics.

Anyway, there’s another green sprout representing phones with dual selfie cams that have started to appear. That will shake up the boring symmetry.

We alluded to the issues of having multiple cameras on the back. However, it’s the front cameras that have proven to be a nightmare for smartphone designers – the demand for shrinking bezels have pushed the selfie cam onto notches, punch holes, sliders and even motorized pop-ups.

And they’re multiplying! In five days Samsung will unveil the Galaxy S10+ with the first dual camera in a punch hole. Will we ever see a triple punch hole? We want to say no, but then we thought a phone with two notches will never exist.

Anyway, a few days after Samsung, HMD will unveil the Nokia 9 PureView with 5 rear cameras, unseating the current champ – the Galaxy A9 (2018) with 4 cams. And LG has a patent on a phone with 16 cameras. Will phones of the future look like an insect eye? As long as each extra module is actually making a valuable contribution we don't see why not.


Reader comments

I suspect that already some phones recognise well known landmarks and fill in details that cannot be resolved by the lens. Some digital photocopier makers have, I believe, been sued because they take a guess at unresolvable numbers, which could cost ...

Good luck puting xeon on thin smartphone profiles. Xeon is outadeted tech. Led can reach similar brightness not disturbing smartphone dimesnions

If that's your point of argument, then I would be more than happy to do it old school. As long as there's no advancement in terms of smartphone camera sensors, I would never let software and AI do the job for me.

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