updated 03:50 pm EDT, Fri October 14, 2011
iPhone 4S look shows switch in camera suppliers
A deeper investigation into the iPhone 4S' camera has confirmed Sir Howard Stringer's claim that Sony was supplying next-generation iPhone cameras. Chipworks used an infrared microscope to check the normally hidden chip markings and found a conspicuous "Sony" on the image sensor. X-rays also show that the sensor layout itself is different and that it's not just a direct upgrade to the earlier OmniVision sensor.
A Sony win in the camera was partly expected. OmniVision had given a weak forecast this summer that hinted it had lost at least some of its sales to Apple, arguably its most important customer. Sony's CMOS, backside-illuminated camera sensor is also the same high-quality unit that was found in the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc and Xperia neo, helping them get low-light shots that had previously been difficult.
Apple will have still made its own contributions to make it stand out, such as its five-element lens and software tuning to adjust the color balance and speed.
The extent of Apple's switch and its motivations are unclear. A possibility exists that Sony is simply boosting capacity beyond what OmniVision can manage. Rumors during the iPhone 4S' development, however, suggested OmniVision wouldn't be ready and that Apple had to choose Sony to get a steady supply.
Sony's tentative deal has already dealt a hit to OmniVision stock as of Friday and has cast doubts on what will happen to future devices' cameras. OmniVision still provides the sensors in the iPad and iPod touch and has a reputation for making very thin cameras that wouldn't necessarily have an Apple equivalent.