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Apple Patent Could Forever Change iPhone Photos

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Already boasting some of the best photos in the smartphone market, the iPhone could soon be affixed with an interchangeable camera lens made by Apple.

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Last month, rumors swirled that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is paying special attention to the camera in the upcoming iPhone 6. Rather than enter the megapixel race currently being held in the smartphone industry, Apple is allegedly improving image quality by increasing the size -- not the count -- of the rear-facing camera's pixels and improving light-gathering capabilities by 33%.
 
Although it might disappoint some users that the upcoming iPhone won't push the megapixel envelope like Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) 41-megapixel Lumia 1020 or the Oppo Find 7 -- which touts an insane 50-megapixel photo capability -- Apple has been able to vastly improve the iPhone camera in the past without boosting the often-arbitrary pixel count.
 
And, in light of a recent patent, it would seem that the company is also exploring another avenue that could potentially change how iPhone shutterbugs snap higher-quality photos.
 
According to a patent issued by the US Patent and Trademark Office this week, Apple may soon introduce an interchangeable camera lens to be used on upcoming iPhones and potentially other iOS devices. Using a bayonet-style mount, the lens can be affixed directly to the body of the iPhone's rear-facing camera bezel by rotating the lens, forming a secure and aesthetically pleasing coupling. Apple adds that the attachment mechanism may easily detatch and release both components should the phone be dropped when the lens is attached. (And as anyone who's dropped their smartphone can attest, such a feature would be very welcome.)
 
But in order to accept the mounted lens, the camera bezel on the iPhone would have to be raised and slightly protrude from the rear casing, which might irritate fans of the iPhone's smooth and even design. However, as explained in the patent, Apple chose the bayonet mount for this lens over other "unsatisfactory solutions" for lens accessory devices that are configured for exterior mounting.
 
One option was to use a removable case on which the lens could be attached. But as the patent explains, "The required use of a case may alter the form factor of the electronic device by increasing the size thereof, which may be undesirable to a consumer. Further, a consumer may prefer an electronic device with a built-in option for attaching a lens accessory device."
 
And Apple didn't want to employ a magnetic ring that would hold the lens in place due to its "unsightly" nature and the insufficient connection that could possibly give out "during activities such as walking or handling of the electronic device that may be expected during normal use." Adding, "[If] the magnetic ring is improperly aligned with respect to the camera, the view through the lens may be obstructed or distorted."
 
This week's patent isn't the first of its kind for Apple. Interestingly enough, two previous filings feature those very same "unsatisfactory solutions" for lens mounts.
 
In January, the company filed a patent for a removable back panel -- effectively a case -- in which would include different lens options. The other, you guessed it, is for a magnetic add-on lens with an alignment ridge. Although Apple's most recent patent maligns the features of either alternative, there's always a chance that some of their elements may pop in a final product.
 
Employing a detachable lens for the iPhone is a bold move for Apple, which has almost always preferred an all-in-one design for its products. Many fans, too, opt for its devices for their lack of superfluous accessories that clutter up pockets and negate the freedom of having a single feature-rich device. While the use of an external lens would undeniably improve the quality of smartphone photos, some users might gripe at the idea of carrying an extra component in lieu of internal solutions -- like those of the new Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) flagship, the HTC One M8, which uses multiple rear sensors to achieve a flexible depth of field after the photo is taken. (Though the effect, critics report, isn't quite up to snuff at launch.)

But should this interchangeable lens see the light of the day when the iPhone 6 (or iPhones 6) is released, it will most likely change what users expect in a smartphone camera and how we all take our candid photos.
 
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