updated 09:35 am EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
Could allow for cheaper, faster, more power-efficient cameras
Apple has today won a US patent on a micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) that could significantly improve the cameras in future iOS devices. Most mobile devices rely on a voice coil motor (VCM) method to handle autofocus, but this is said to have high power consumption and low force. Apple's MEMS is claimed to be faster and more power-efficient, and cheaper to mass-produce.
The main obstacle to using MEMS is stated to be size, since a MEMS actuator is so small that it can be difficult to manufacture. Apple's patent gets around this by attaching an integral deflection beam to the lens element and an electrostatic actuator. When meshed with a silicon wafer, a single integral structure is left.
Unlike some Apple patents, it's actually likely that the company will eventually switch to MEMS for products like iPhones and iPads. The company is continually working on making products thinner and more power-efficient, and rivals are moving in the same direction. Apple originally filed for the patent in October 2012.