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This breakthrough could make the iPhone 12's camera astonishing in low light

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro feature the best smartphone cameras you can buy today. However, a breakthrough new technology from a startup Apple has just acquired could help the iPhone 12 and future models blow them out of the water.

This week, Apple acquired Cambridge, U.K.-based startup Spectral Edge, according to Bloomberg. The company has developed a method of blending infrared photos with normal ones through artificial intelligence, as a way to produce shots with better color accuracy and sharpness, especially in poor lighting conditions.

The filings about the acquisition at the U.K. Companies House does not list how much Apple paid for the firm.

Of course, Apple is no stranger to computational photography; every photo you take on the iPhone 11 or 11 Pro stitches together aspects of many frames to produce one shot with optimized white balance, contrast, highlights, shadows and sharpness.

With its latest generation of handsets, Apple introduced Night Mode, which greatly improved the visibility of very dim scenes, as well as Deep Fusion, which is designed to bring out detail in mid-light scenarios. Spectral Edge's technology could be advantageous to both of those objectives.

The premium iPhone 12 models — some of which will include 5G — could pack as many as four lenses on the back. Rumors point to a time-of-flight sensor joining the wide, ultrawide and telephoto optics, to help the device measure the distance to objects, and therefore develop more sophisticated depth maps for post-processing and augmented reality effects.

The timing of the acquisition does not guarantee we'll see Spectral Edge's technology debut in time for the iPhone 12 series; Apple's 2021 iPhones are a much safer bet. At this point, it's a bit too early to tell what Cupertino is planning on the software side of imaging in its upcoming handsets.