A recent patent award reveals plans for further improvement in iOS cameras, allowing for two or more different zones of an image to be selected for focus and other settings, with the camera selecting a compromise point automatically if there is too much difference in the selected zones. The patent application also suggests that future iPhones might incorporate a dedicated image processor for photos and video.
The patent, which was first applied for in 2010, describes and ability of the user to tap an area to direct focus as is already implemented in the iPhone 4 and 4S. Where the patent goes beyond current capabilities is in its ability to create multiple zones of focus, and its mention of possible motion tracking for focus purposes (for example, selecting a particular person to focus on while shooting video where the focus stays on the person regardless where they move to).
The ability, if implemented, would put iPhones or iPads well past the abilities of most lower-end consumer cameras in terms of being able to handle challenging focus situations automatically. In addition to being able to select multiple focus zones, the user could also separately select regions to set aperture and exposure levels for both photography and video.
The iPhone 4S and iPhone 4 are already the most popular non-DSLR camera models on most popular photography websites such as Flickr and Instagram, and in fact the iPhone 4 has surpassed even DSLR models to the single most popular camera on Flickr, with the iPhone 4S already surpassing most DSLRs (save the Canon EOS 5D Mark II). The iPhone 4S brought noticeable improvements in lens technology to the iPhone's camera that only a few competitors have been able to match or surpass.
The patent, numbered 20120120277, was granted on May 17. It lists Apple engineer Richard Tsai as the sole inventor.