08/10 Update below. This post was originally published on August 8
Google has detailed a new smartphone technology that could put the company’s Google Pixel smartphones one step ahead of iPhones and Samsung Galaxy handsets.
The technology, revealed in a accurate patent application, describes a new under-display front-facing camera that would allow the company to eliminate entirely the notch or, as Apple likes to call it, the “Dynamic Island” from the display. This would result in an uninterrupted full-screen experience for users, making maximum use of the available space.
Such a design presents some notoriously difficult problems, as the screen must function as both a display and a ‘window’ to allow light through to the front-facing camera beneath. Furthermore, it must perform both of these functions without negatively impacting the quality of either the display or the camera.
Under-display cameras already exist in smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold range, but Google’s solution is unique in the way it aims to maximize camera quality by introducing deliberate light-blocking elements and distortions.
Google’s technique uses two specialized regions of the display that block or distort light in different ways as it passes through the screen. This could be achieved by using a layer of light-blocking material that inserts different shapes or patterns between the display and a pair of camera sensors, one beneath each specialized region. The sensors themselves could also be of different types, for example, one color sensor and one that captures in monochrome.
Each light-blocking pattern is matched with its sensor to provide the best possible quality in a particular characteristic, such as sharpness, while the other is tuned to do better at different characteristic, perhaps color fidelity. Each of these regions of the display could also feature alternative pixel layouts that affect the path of light through the display in different ways.
The output from each sensor is then combined to create a final high-quality image using digital image processing and machine learning. In this way, the negative impact of shooting through a screen is reduced.
Google won’t be the first to produce such a display, but earlier attempts have so far failed to deliver on quality, with most premium handsets sticking with current ‘notched’ display technology rather than forcing users to put up with substandard selfies or obvious low-quality areas on the display.
Of course, being a mere patent application, there’s no guarantee Google will produce such a camera in the near future, but there’s certainly demand for it, and if Google’s new technology can deliver high-quality results, then it could become a compelling reason to consider a future Pixel device over an iPhone or Galaxy smartphone.
08/10 Update: While we’re waiting for Google’s game-changing camera tech, the Pixel 8 range is just around the corner and, as revealed in a accurate report from WinFuture, it’s not good news for those hoping for a large storage capacity to store their photos and videos.
According to the report, Google will be sticking to just 128GB and 256GB variants of the standard Pixel 8, while the Pixel 8 Pro will also be available in a 512GB mode. This means there will be no new higher-capacity Pixel 8 / Pixel 8 Pro models at launch compared to the current Pixel 7 / Pixel 7 Pro.
By contrast, Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro models are expected to drop the 128GB size altogether, starting at 256GB and potentially with support for up to 2TB of storage.
The new Pixel range is expected to launch this October in a range of colors, including “Licorice”, “Peony” and “Haze” for the standard Pixel 8, while the Pro model is expected to launch in “Licorice”, “Porcelain” and “Sky” colorways, according to WinFuture.
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The Google Pixel 8 Pro is expected to launch within weeks, and that means the marketing materials and promo videos are already being made – and one of the latter has leaked.
The promotional video for the Google Pixel 8 Pro shows the Google flagship in a new blue colour option and also reveals a seriously useful video upgrade.
A version of the leaked video was posted to Twitter by leaker EZ, who explains that "the new Pixel 8 series will introduce Audio Magic Eraser feature to reduce video background noise". That would remove unwanted sounds from your clips, something that's an enormous pain to do manually.
The Magic Eraser name suggests that, like the photo feature of the same name, it'll use AI-based machine learning tools to analyse your video clips, work out what's unwanted and get shot of it without you having to lift a finger. If it works as well as the photo feature does, it's going to be a real boon to serious video makers and home video shooters alike.
According to EZ, the feature is coming to the Pixel 8 Pro and to the Pixel 8 too.
The launch of the Google Pixel 8 is expected to be in October 2023 with a slight price increase over the Pixel 7 models; it is predicted to be priced somewhere between $649 and $699, which is between $50 and $100 more than the Pixel 7. The Pro is likely to increase in price too; it's currently $899 but a price of $999 is rumoured this time around.
There are likely to be some significant improvements to the hardware for both phones, which will move to the newer Tensor G3 processor. That's reportedly a lot faster and more efficient than before, with improved graphics power too.
Both phones are reportedly moving to the ISOCELL GN2 main camera, and the Pro is apparently getting an upgrade to its Sony IMX787 sensor on the ultrawide camera alongside improved autofocus. The camera upgrades will deliver signfiicantly better low light performance and possibly higher resolution/frame rate video.
Those are the headline upgrades, but there's much more: faster charging, DisplayPort over USB-C and even a temperature sensor. We'll find out for sure in the next few weeks.
Details have emerged that Google could be devising a new form of under-screen front-facing camera for future Pixel phones. If the accurate patent application translates into a successful implementation of the technology, it'd mean a clean, notch-free display.
The best camera phones always have a front-facing camera, which is handy not just for taking selfies, but also for features like face unlock. However, as useful as the selfie camera is, it invariably has a negative impact on screen real estate, and the overall phone aesthetic. Smartphone design is all about maximising the 'screen to body' ratio, with the slimmest possible bezels. Historically that's not quite been possible, as the display has had to make way for the selfie camera, whether that be in the form of a notch, or a punch-hole. Some manufacturers have devised more creative solutions, like the OnePlus 7 Pro which featured a pop-up selfie camera, or the Asus Zenfone 8 Flip that was able to flip its entire rear-facing camera module forward when you wanted to take a selfie.
But mechanical moving parts in a phone are always potential weak points, while also adding extra bulk. The ultimate solution to eliminating the screen notch is an under-display selfie camera, which we've seen recently in phones like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5. It's technically challenging, however, as the display mustn't show any image imperfections as it passes over the camera lens, yet it simultaneously can't obstruct light entering the camera beneath. Something of a 'Catch-22'.
Google's patent shows an innovative take on the under-screen camera. Rather than using a single camera, which can compromise display quality in the area that passes over the lens, Google's design would use a pair of cameras, with each positioned behind two specific regions of the display. Each display region would feature a special material to block light in specific patterns; patterns which correspond to what the camera sensor behind has been tuned to capture. One sensor could then record specific information like sharpness, and the other color or monochrome data, with machine learning then combining these components into a single complete image. By splitting the image into separate elements like this, the display passing over each under-screen camera is presumably less compromised than if it was covering a single camera, thereby potentially reducing the impact on display quality.
It all sounds pretty ambitious, but as this is currently just a patent application, there's no guarantee if, let alone when, the theory may translate into actual hardware. If Google can turn a completely invisible under-screen camera into reality, it'd be quite a feat of engineering.
Story credit: Forbes
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