During a recent interview with the WSJ’s Walt Mossberg, Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer may have inadvertently let it slip that Sony plans to supply Apple with 8 megapixel cameras for the next-gen iPhone. While discussing the Japanese earthquake, Stringer noted that Sony’s camera sensor plant in Sendai had been affected and that shipments of 8 megapixel camera sensors to Apple were subsequently delayed.
The veracity of Stringer’s statement was initially greeted with skepticism as Apple, to date, has never used Sony as a camera supplier for the iPhone, relying instead on sensors sourced from Omnivision. The Wall Street Journal, however, subsequently verified Stringer’s statements.
Early on, he raised the irony of Sony supplying camera components for Apple devices. It “always puzzles me,” he said. “Why would I make Apple the best camera?”
Because money talks, that’s why.
This past February, reports emerged indicating that Omnivision’s planned 8 megapixel 0V8820 sensor would not be ready in time for a Summer iPhone launch due to poor chip yields. As such, it was rumored that Sony was going to step in and supply Apple with the same 8 megapixel cameras it showcased at Mobile World Congress on devices like the Xperia Pro. Importantly, Sony’s camera has the same CMOS sensor technology for low light situations as offered by Omnivision’s sensors.
Apple, of course, has consistently upgraded the camera present in the iPhone but has also focused on using intuitive software to improve overall picture quality, such as the “tap to focus” feature that debuted on the iPhone 3GS and support for HDR photos which was introduced in iOS 4.1. It’s not solely about megapixels, remember.
Interestingly, it’s also possible that Sony’s rumored agreement with Apple was made well before low chip yields became a problem at Omnivision. In fact, the first report of Sony being tapped to supply Apple with 8-megapixel cameras dates back to April 2010 when The Street’s Scott Mortiz cited a research note from Ashok Kumar stating that Apple’s 2011 iPhone would feature cameras from Sony as opposed to Ominivision. While both Moritz and Kumar have spotty track records with respect to Apple rumors, that same report correctly anticipated that the iPhone 4 would come with a 5-megapixel camera from Omnivision.
Reports of delayed camera sensors for the iPhone 5 are particularly interesting in light of reports that Apple, as opposed to years past, is not planning to showcase new iPhone hardware at this year’s WWDC and will not have a new model out this Summer. Instead, reports suggest that the iPhone 5 is being scheduled for a Fall 2011 launch, well ahead of the profitable holiday shopping season.
Regarding the underlying reasons for the delay, some postulated that Apple wanted to make WWDC less of a media event and return the focus to developers. We ourselves theorized that with Apple engineers furiously working to finish up OS X Lion in time for a Summer 2011 release, a concurrent release of iOS 5 in time for a Summer iPhone launch simply wasn’t possible. And rather than release new iPhone hardware without an accompanying iOS update, Apple, we speculated, decided to push back the iPhone 5 release until Fall.
At the end of the day, though, perhaps the reason behind the planned Fall launch is as simple as a delay in acquiring component parts.