WCP Insights Blog: The Smartphone Depth Imaging Market

Palo Alto, CA – Sep 25, 2017 —  The market for depth imaging and sensing devices is booming. With a CAGR of 37.7% over the next five years, the depth imaging market is expected to reach $9 billion by 2022. WCP recently released its Smartphone Depth Sensing report detailing many of the trends. But what is the core driver of the Depth Imaging market? In short, it’s in Mixed Reality (MR).

MR is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. This technology is top of mind for many of the leading technology companies. Google, Snap, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple and other players are working zealously to produce the latest default development environment for MR apps and services.

Thus far, smartphones have only supported a simple form of Augmented Reality (AR) in which virtual images can be superimposed on an image of the real world (for example, Pokemon GO). However, with the emerging market for depth imaging devices, those flat surface virtual images will soon be a thing of the past. Before we know it, all smartphones will seamlessly merge virtual and real world images in real time.

These are the three main types of depth image measuring technologies available in depth image devices today:

  • Structured light cameras use infrared dot patterns to illuminate the contours of an object and measures depth by the size of the dots. For example, the larger the dot, the further away that part of the object is. These cameras are uniquely suited for 3D mapping.
  • Time-of-flight cameras measure the time it takes for an infrared beam to reach an object and reflect back to the source. The longer this takes, the farther away the part of the object.
  • Stereovision cameras do not use infrared and are best suited for outdoor environments. They work in a way which is similar to the human eye with two sensors placed about 2.5″ apart to infer depth from triangulation.

I believe that the structured light cameras are better suited for MR on smartphones because they: produce higher resolution imagery than current time-of-flight solutions, require less computational power than stereovision cameras, and perform better in lowlight settings than stereovision cameras.

In 2016, Lenovo was the first to release a depth imaging smartphone. Apple is not far behind them as they plan to introduce depth imaging in the iPhone 8 (due to release late 2017). It is surprising that Apple hasn’t done more with the dual cameras on their iPhone 7 Plus. Some have wondered how Apple’s portrait mode feature would be affected if they were to replace their stereovision-based technology with structured light technology for depth imaging.

The answer is that it wouldn’t be affected at all because structured light cameras are better for producing high- quality depth of field effect anyway. Depth imaging is the future of smartphone cameras, and eventually all of the major market players will be announcing their versions of depth imaging smartphones.

About Woodside Capital Partners

Woodside Capital Partners is a global, independent investment bank that delivers world-class strategic and financial advice to emerging growth companies in the technology and life sciences sectors, as well as institutional technology research services marketed as techView. With a strong track record in M&A, strategic partnerships and private placements, Woodside Capital Partners has been providing worldwide investment banking services since 2001 with leading domain experience in software, Internet services, electronic communications and materials, and healthcare. Woodside Capital Partners is headquartered in Silicon Valley, with an office in London. Securities offered through Woodside Capital Securities LLC, member FINRA/SIPC. For more information, please visit www.woodsidecap.com