Apple already uses AI smarts to help with iPhone image processing via the neural engine that has been part of A-series chips since the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. But future iPhones could see some AI processing performed directly by the camera sensor itself …

The Verge reports that Sony – which supplies the advanced image sensors used in current iPhones – is working on integrating AI smarts directly into the sensor. It has already announced the first of these, though that is a model geared to commercial rather than consumer applications.

Sony has announced the world’s first image sensor with integrated AI smarts. The new IMX500 sensor incorporates both processing power and memory, allowing it to perform machine learning-powered computer vision tasks without extra hardware. The result, says Sony, will be faster, cheaper, and more secure AI cameras […]

Many applications rely on sending images and videos to the cloud to be analyzed. This can be a slow and insecure journey, exposing data to hackers. In other scenarios, manufacturers have to install specialized processing cores on devices to handle the extra computational demand, as with new high-end phones from Apple, Google, and Huawei.

But Sony says its new image sensor offers a more streamlined solution than either of these approaches.

The IMX500 is for retail and industrial uses, such as facial recognition to support checkout-free stores, but the company is clearly thinking ahead to smartphone applications.

Whether Apple would take advantage of these types of sensors is unclear. The company puts a lot of work into its own image-processing algorithms, but it’s possible that future iPhones could incorporate sensors that do some AI work and then hand off to the A-series chip for further processing, potentially boosting both performance and efficiency.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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