Sony recently announced an upcoming 21-megapixel CMOS sensor with onboard plane phase detection autofocus signal processing, 4K video output and still image HDR – all of which are features that could eventually trickle down to future iPhone models considering Sony is an Apple partner supplier. According to Sony, the Exmor RS series IMX230 is the first stacked-type sensor to offer the local phase detection AF technology. For those of you who don’t know, this technology allows for rapid focusing on fast-moving subjects. Apple branded this technology as “Focus Pixels” when it first introduced the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models, both of which are currently sport-early-generation Exmor RS sensors.

Sony was able to squeeze in advanced phase detection signal processing hardware by stacking circuity below the sensor’s backside illuminated pixel array. The hardware helps to parse data from 192 available AF reference points (Focus Pixels in this case).The Sony sensor found in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is thought to offload phase detection processing to the A8 system-on-chip. In the next-generation phones, the autofocus should be much faster due to onboard capabilities improving.

The IMX230 has 21 effective megapixels, allowing for 5,344 pixels by 4,016 pixels. This allows the sensor to push out 4K video. Coupled with improved pixel placement, the image processor supports HDR video recording and adds the same capability for still image photography. Alongside the IMX230, Sony also revealed that it is working on another 16 megapixel sensor that will have phase detection and HDR imaging.

The Cupertino California company is likely to build on Sony’s new designs for the next year’s iPhone refresh though it is unknown whether the model will be the IMX230, the 16 MP variant or another Sony part using pixels 1.5 microns in size. Apple traditionally looks for older generation hardware like the current Exmor RS-based module which appears to be part of 2012’s IMX014 design, extracting high-quality images through in-house image processing on board the A-series SoC.

As of right now, Sony’s IMX230 is set to head out to manufacturers in April 2015 while the 16 megapixel iteration is set to debut sometime next year instead.

Source: Sony (Press Release) via AppleInsider