Signs Mount that iPhone 8 Will Focus on AR

A glass design and edge-to-edge display may be the most visible changes to the next iPhone, but a growing number of indicators point to augmented reality as a major focus for Apple's iPhone 8.

An iPhone 8 concept shows what's possible with AR. Credit: Gabor Balogh

(Image credit: An iPhone 8 concept shows what's possible with AR. Credit: Gabor Balogh)

The latest sign of an AR-friendly iPhones comes from a Wall Street Journal report on parts suppliers likely to benefit from this fall's expected iPhone 8 release. That report includes makers of the kind of 3D sensors a phone would require if it were to boast AR capabilities.

The Journal specifically calls out Lumentum, which supplies parts used in 3D sensors, as the company reported delivering products for "a high-volume mobile-device application." Also mentioned by the Journal is STM Microelectronics, which is reportedly providing the sensors for a 3D camera system Apple plans to include in the iPhone 8.

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If it's true that these companies are supplying parts for the next iPhone — and it's worth noting there's no official confirmation that they are — it would suggest Apple is serious about delivering on its publicly stated interest in augmented reality. And this Wall Street Journal report is hardly the first time it's looked like AR is on the agenda for the next iPhone.

Last November, Business Insider reported that Apple was looking to integrate AR technology into the iPhone's camera app, most likely in time for this fall's iOS 11 release. More recently, UBS analyst Steven Milunovich predicted AR would be one of the big additions to the iPhone 8, citing an Apple-owned facility in Israel that's entirely focused on implementing the technology.

And just last week, Apple supplier Imagination Technologies announced a new chip technology that not only promises improved performance in gaming and graphics-intensive apps but also has implications for AR uses as well.

Exactly what all these sensors and chips would allow you do to do with the new iPhone isn't exactly clear. The most common speculation is that an AR-friendly phone would be able to recognize objects and overlay information about them on your phone's screen. But if Apple is working on AR capabilities for the phone, it could have an entirely different focus in mind. In the meantime, AppleInsider has a tantalizing look at a iPhone 8 AR concept and what it could enable.

When you consider also that Apple recently won a pair of AR-related patents, fueling speculation that it was working on a pair of augmented reality glasses, it's getting harder to shake the suspicion that Apple's going to have something to say about its devices and AR at some point in 2017.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.