This Could Be the iPhone 11's Secret Weapon

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The current crop of iPhones doesn’t seem to be selling well, as yet another analyst has slashed its sales forecast, this time for the iPhone XS Max. In fact, the entire smartphone market has hit a slump, with shipments falling 3 percent in 2018.

What can Apple do to make us excited about phones again? A collaboration with Sony for the iPhone 11 in 2019 may be the answer.Credit: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesCredit: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesAs reported by Bloomberg, Sony is working on a new 3D camera for phones that could transform everything from gaming and communications to shopping. Apple has partnered with Sony in the past, but the company is also reportedly working with Huawei.

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The new 3D chips use time of flight technology, a method of sending out invisible laser pulses and measuring how long they take to bounce back. This enables a phone to create detailed 3D models and works at distances of five meters. This is superior to today's structured light approach, which has a more limited distance.

In terms of applications, Sony's 3D camera could let users play games with "virtual characters that interact with and navigate real-world environments" or "ones that use hand gestures for control."

Credit: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesCredit: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesSony showed one demo in which a player could cast spells in a game using hand gestures. Being able to instantly calculate the depth of a room could also enhance augmented reality applications.

Of course, the 3D cameras alone won't be enough to rescue smartphones from their current state of malaise. It will be up to smartphone makers and developers to make applications that take full advantage of these chips.

Bloomberg says Sony will start mass production in late summer of 2019, which means it likely won't start showing up in handsets until the fall.