The iPhone 16 Ultra camera will integrate the biggest leap in photos since B&W-to-color: report

Star Trek called it the holocamera and Apple Vision Pro brings it to life in a way that could be its most sought-after feature.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief
Person taking picture with iPhone
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Next year's top-of-the-line iPhone 16 Ultra will include a camera system that can capture the 3D spatial photos and spatial videos shown in the Apple Vision Pro headset, according to a serial leaker on Weibo and first spotted by MacRumors

In my demo of the Vision Pro at WWDC, the spatial photos and videos were the most impressive thing I saw. As I mentioned in my analysis of the Vision Pro experience, the feeling of stepping into the scene with spatial videos and photos was far more realistic than any 3D movie, IMAX, or 8K display I've seen. I called it the must-see feature of the Vision Pro.

Also: I tried Apple Vision Pro and it's far ahead of where I expected

Many of the journalists, analysts, and developers who got the Vision Pro demo expressed similar sentiments. John Gruber of Daring Fireball said that spatial videos were more like "stepping into a memory" than watching a screen.

However, one of the most common reactions to this feature was that in order to take spatial photos and videos of the most memorable moments in life -- such as a child's birthday party or special family trip -- you'd have to wear the Vision Pro headset to capture them. And that would separate you from being in the moment. 

Also: Every product we're expecting at Apple's September event

As a result, there was immediate speculation that Apple could potentially integrate similar 3D capturing technology into the future camera system of the iPhone, since it already uses LiDAR for depth sensing and does 3D scanning for features such as Face ID. 

Apple Vision Pro headset at WWDC 2023

Apple Vision Pro headset, coming in early 2024

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

So the latest report that Apple is planning to introduce 3D photography and video into the iPhone next fall following the launch of the Vision Pro in early 2024 is a logical progression. Of course, logic doesn't always line up with what's possible and economical in manufacturing, so we should be wary about the timing. 

It also makes sense that Apple would bring this tech to its most expensive, highest-end, best-selling model first. That said, I expect this tech will eventually come to most of the iPhone models because spatial photos and videos are so compelling that they could be the first killer app that makes people want to get an Apple headset -- after the price comes down. 

Also: The best VR headsets for gaming, the metaverse, and beyond

There's such an emotional reaction to seeing spatial photos and videos that it feels like something new, and a welcome innovation. It may actually be an even bigger leap forward than the transition from black-and-white to color photography and video.

In terms of the name of Apple's flagship smartphone, there are conflicting reports about whether this year's iPhone 15 Pro Max could get renamed as the iPhone 15 Ultra. It will reportedly include a periscope camera for taking longer distance shots, which could justify the name change. But if next year's model does include 3D capture technology, it would certainly justify the upgrade to its name.

Editorial standards