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Report: Apple expected to use sensor-shift image stabilization units in all of its next-generation iPhone models

A new report from Taiwanese supply chain publication, DigiTimes Asia, suggests all of Apple’s next-generation smartphones will feature sensor-shift image stabilization.

Currently, Apple only uses sensor-shift image stabilization for the wide camera module on its larger flagship device, the iPhone 12 Pro Max; image stabilization in the rest of its iPhone lineup is achieved via lens-based image stabilization. The move from lens-based image stabilization to sensor-shift stabilization doesn’t necessarily mean improved image quality, it does enable Apple to get more creative with its lens designs, as all the heavy lifting is done by the sensor.

And, although only noticeable in certain scenes, the below comparison from Danny Winget does show the sensor-shift stabilization inside the iPhone 12 Pro Max does seem to provide slightly better stabilization than the iPhone 12 Pro:

The article (soft-paywalled, behind a free subscription), titled ‘iPhones to outstrip Android handsets in VCM demand starting July,’ states Apple has increased its orders for voice coil motors (VCMs), which are the components used to shift the sensors inside the camera module. Specifically, DigiTimes says ‘demand for VCMs to support the function will grow 3–4 folds after all new iPhones incorporate the capability’ and notes VCM manufacturers ‘have been told to raise capacity by 30–40% to meet strong demand for iPhones.’

DigiTimes says its sources list Mitsumi and Alps as the ‘main suppliers’ of VCM units for iPhone camera models. While Alps handles its own automated production, DigiTimes says Mitsumi has ‘significantly’ increased VCM unit orders from its suppliers, which include Taiwanese manufacturer Audix as well as Chinese companies Zhonglan Electronic Technology, JCT Electronics and GYZ Electronic Technology.

An infographic from InfoNewt shows the historical release patterns of iPhone models. Used under Creative Commons.

Smartphone manufacturers continue to put an emphasis on the photographic capabilities of their respective devices, but for as much as the likes of Google and others rely on AI-powered processing and editing for getting the most from the (relatively) small sensors, image stabilization is one area where physical components have proven more effective than software.

If Apple sticks to its usual release schedule, we won’t know for sure whether or not all the next-generation iPhones will have at sensor-shift image stabilization until September or October.