It looks like iPhone photography might get a little more interesting. Apple Insider reports that Apple has been awarded a patent for a “Digital camera including refocusable imaging mode adaptor.” This means you should be able to change the focus on pictures after you’ve already taken them. Sound like Lytro? Apple thinks so too.
Apple cites Lytro in its patent application as prior art, but notes that its camera allows for changes to be made to picture quality and resolution. According to the patent, Apple’s invention is:
A digital camera system configurable to operate in a low-resolution refocusable mode and a high-resolution non-refocusable mode comprising: a camera body; an image sensor mounted in the camera body having a plurality of sensor pixels for capturing a digital image; an imaging lens for forming an image of a scene onto an image plane, the imaging lens having an aperture; and an adaptor that can be inserted between the imaging lens and the image sensor to provide the low-resolution refocusable mode and can be removed to provide the high-resolution non-refocusable mode, the adaptor including a microlens array with a plurality of microlenses; wherein when the adaptor is inserted to provide the low-resolution refocusable mode, the microlens array is positioned between the imaging lens and the image sensor.
So while Apple’s camera should provide you with a similar end result to Lytro – the ability to change the focus on an image you’ve already taken – you’re getting a full resolution camera along with a refocusable option.
Whether or not this tech will make it into future iPhones is anyone’s guess. Nokia recently released a Nokia Refocus app, which essentially lets you do the same thing with some of its Lumia phones, so it’s unclear how Apple will use the refocusing ability to differentiate itself.