The next iPhone will get an upgrade to a 5-megapixel camera, sources said on Wednesday. OmniVision, Apple's current supplier for the 3.2-megapixel camera in the iPhone 3GS, has reportedly been given orders for its second sensor upgrade in a year with expectation that an iPhone using the higher resolution will ship in the second half of 2010. Production of the 5-megapixel sensors could start as soon as winter 2010.
Technical details of the sensor weren't provided in the DigiTimes tip, but a potential candidate is the OV5650. The sensor echoes Apple's emphasis on image quality over resolution as it should both handle better in low light and generate less noise. It will also be responsive enough to handle video recording at 1080p, but there's no signs as of yet that Apple will upgrade its video capture features.
In spite of any potential upgrades, the same purported leak also suggests Apple will be ambitious and could order between 40 million and 45 million camera sensors just for iPhones, and consequently a similar number of iPhones, through the course of the year. The tally would be more than twice the 20-21 million estimated to have shipped for 2009 and wouldn't include any cameras for iPod nanos or a possible early iPod touch upgrade, which could add another 20 million to 25 million orders to OmniVision's list.
A 5-megapixel camera would be conservative in the industry as many photo-oriented phones already have 8-megapixel or even 12-megapixel cameras, such as Nokia's N86 8MP or the Sony Ericsson Satio. However, most of these have physically larger sensors and are often bulkier or have to devote more of their space to the camera than Apple has normally been willing to provide.