Xiaomi: For many years, smartphones have had two cameras: a front one for selfies and video conferencing, and a rear more ‘tocha’ (usually) so that we can unleash the Annie Leibovitz that we carry inside. But in today’s design trend, front-facing cameras are superfluous, spoiling the all-screen design.
That is why all companies are looking for a way to solve this, and the idea of having an under-screen camera will soon be a standard, just like the under-screen biometric reader.
Xiaomi’s rotating camera
In 2019, Samsung found an original way to hide the front camera without resorting to implementing it under the screen, and its Samsung Galaxy A80 attracted attention with a hidden camera module in the terminal chassis that slid up and rotated to become rear camera in front.
The A80 mixed both cameras in the same module, and this is what Xiaomi’s new patent, granted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) last week, does, as we have been able to read on the Let’s Go Digital site.
Flip-up camera under the screen
In February 2020, Bejing Xiaomi Mobile Software filed a patent with WIPO for a “mobile device.” The 32-page documentation was published on April 29, 2021 and describes in detail how the company plans to integrate an internal rotating camera into a smartphone.
At the back of the screen is placed a so-called flip-up camera module, with at least one camera lens. By default, the camera is oriented towards the rear and is part of a larger camera system, which consists of several lenses. Based on the sketches, only the top lens of the triple camera appears to be rotatable. The other two lenses remain facing rearward at all times.
By means of a motorized or magnetic drive module and a processor, it is possible to rotate the camera in the housing. Based on the extensive documentation, the preference seems to go to a magnetic module, which is cheaper to implement and also more durable (a motor can break, a magnet always works). In that case, a magnetic component will also be attached to the camera lens.
A rotating camera
When the selfie camera is activated, it rotates internally, after which the part of the screen that surrounds the camera module is deactivated to allow sufficient ambient light to enter. In practice you will hardly notice it, because this part of the screen is very small. The remaining and also the largest part of the screen can be used as a viewfinder, to provide a preview of the image to be recorded.
Finally, there is talk of a laser autofocus system capable of focusing quickly and accurately, even in low light conditions. Xiaomi has already used an AF system of this type, let’s think for example of the Mi 9. As for the type of screen, different types of screens can be used, such as an LCD (liquid crystal display), an OLED (organic diode light emitter) or a CRT (cathode ray tube) display, as indicated in the documentation.
Advantages of this new technology
Now the question remains: what advantages does this technology have? Because the camera system rotates inside the housing, it cannot come into contact with dust and dirt outside. This is a great advantage over pop-up cameras as we know them today.
By using a rotating camera you can also save on the number of cameras. Lastly, there is no need for a separate front camera. Optionally, two cameras can be included in the rotation system. However, Xiaomi has equipped relatively few smartphones with a dual selfie camera, and it would take up even more space on the body, making it less likely.
Of course, it can also be associated with all kinds of photo and video functions, such as a dual recording mode in which a video can be recorded simultaneously with the front and rear cameras. At the moment it is unknown if Xiaomi plans to integrate this technology in future smartphone models.
Possibly, the Mi Mix 4 will be the first Xiaomi smartphone in which the selfie camera is located below the screen. According to rumors, Xiaomi will also equip its next folding smartphone with an under-screen selfie camera. That device is expected this year, although details on the subsequent design are still scant.
The race between the companies
Without a doubt, Xiaomi is not the only manufacturer that is betting on this new camera technology. Apparently, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, which is expected this summer, will also feature this type of camera system. Other manufacturers such as Oppo, Vivo and Huawei will also launch their first smartphone with an under-screen camera this year. ZTE has already released the Axon 20 5G, this was the world’s first phone with an under-screen camera. ZTE is also expected to launch a new model this year.