According to an Apple patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and detailed by PatentlyApple, Apple is at the very least conceptualizing a device that sports a removable back panel for easily replaceable components such as lenses or optical solutions.
While it is unclear whether the invention would be used in a standalone camera, next-generation iPod or iPhone, or a different device entirely, the patent detailed several methods of upgrading a device with supplementary optics:
The digital imaging subsystem is typically enclosed within the case of the device to protect the digital imaging subsystem. The enclosure generally prevents direct access to the lens of the digital imaging subsystem for the purpose of providing any sort of supplementary optics, especially if the supplementary optics must be precisely aligned with the image sensor… It would be desirable to provide a structure for a compact device that allows the end user to reconfigure the optical arrangement of the device while retaining the benefits of assembling the device using a pre-assembled digital imaging subsystem.
Apple detailed several features that could be added through the easily swappable supplementary optics, including: improved zoom capabilities, better shutter control, removable close-up lenses, and the addition of motion sensors, flashes, or a lens baffle. As an example, the report explained a removable IR cut-off filter that would allow “capturing black and white images at very low light levels. Without the IR-cut filter the camera’s light sensitivity may extend to 0.001 lux or lower.” The report also broke down how the removable back panels could be implemented:
A removable panel is coupled to the case and held in a second defined positional relationship to the case that covers the digital imaging subsystem without the removable panel being directly connected to the digital imaging subsystem. An optical component is supported by the removable panel such that the optical component is aligned with the optical axis and alters optical characteristics of the digital imaging subsystem. The device may include a power supply and an electronic control system coupled to the digital imaging subsystem and the power supply enclosed in and supported by the case. Electrical connectors may couple the power supply and the electronic control system to an electrical component on the removable panel.