Apple’s camera supplier sees sharp production drop ahead of the next iPhone

By , Feb 24, 2013

iPhone 4S camera lens

Here’s another indication that Apple is on the verge of ramping up iPhone 5S manufacturing. According to a new report by a Korean newspaper, Apple’s camera supplier LG Innotek is said to have put on hold as much as 80 percent of its camera module output.

The paper claims the change is a result of “weak iPhone 5 sales”, but that’s an incorrect assumption because the iPhone 5′s back and front camera is made by Sony and Omnivision, respectively.

LG Innotek is still listed as the official Apple supplier as it makes the iPhone 4 camera, but its name doesn’t come up in teardown analysis of any of Apple’s latest mobile products…

According to South Korea’s national daily newspaper Munhwa Daily (translated to English by BrightWire), Apple asked LG Innotek, a unit of LG Electronics, to expand its production capacity to ten million units per month in the second half of 2012, covering thirty percent of the expansion costs.

The story claims approximately 75-85 percent of LG Innotek’s camera module production line has been non-operational for the last few months, with sources quick to blame “lower than expected iPhone 5 sales”.

Not so fast.

For starters, the timing of LG Innotek’s production deceleration coincides suspiciously with the September 2012 release of the iPhone 5. A teardown analysis by Chipworks has revealed that the iPhone 5 uses an eight-megapixel iSight sensor by Sony (as seen below) and a 1.2-megapixel FaceTime HD camera by Omnivision, a long time supplier of CMOS sensors for iOS devices.

iPhone 5 Sony iSight sensor (Chipworks 001)

Therefore, speculation that LG Innotek slowing phone camera is a sign of weak iPhone 5 demand is sensationalist rhetoric to say the least. Additionally, iFixIt identified an eight-megapixel sensor inside the iPhone 4S as a Sony product.

So what’s going on here?

Two possible explanations.

First, LG is both a supplier and rival.

LG Optimus Pro (four up, portrait, landscape)
LG ahead of MWC said its Optimus G Pro will hit U.S. in the second quarter.

The two companies are slugging it out in the United States (here and here) for the #2 spot in handset sales. LG also makes the Nexus 4 for Google and with Apple hiring away an OLED expert from LG’s display making unit, their relationship could be on the decline.

Topping it all off, LG just aired an interesting Optimus G Pro ommercial which kinda kicks the iOS panorama in the butt. The new LG flagship has a 1080p 5.5-inch AMOLED 400ppi screen, a 13-megapixel camera, LTE networking and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 600 quad-core 1.7GHz processor.

Because Apple isn’t fond of its suppliers lambasting the iPhone (hint: Samsung), Cook & Co. may have had enough of LG.

Another more reasonable explanation: when the iPhone 5S comes out this summer, the 32-month old iPhone 4 – which now retails for $450 off-contract – should finally be retired to make way for the iPhone 4S as the new entry-level option.

And as it in fact assembles the five-megapixel camera for the iPhone 4, we would expect the handset’s looming death to negatively impact LG Innotek’s camera production output.

Here’s one of LG Innotek optics department’s chiefs touting his company’s ultra slim 13-megapixel camera module.

Rumor mills think the next iPhone will feature a 13-megapixel camera and we have a feeling LG Innotek won’t be supply these, but who knows…

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  • Bob

    Higher megapixels doesn’t automatically mean better image quality, people need to understand that.

    • sambuzzlight

      i still want it!!

    • Kurt

      I never print out my pictures and never print them out to poster size, nor crop so 8meg+ is just unnecessary. For real picture taken I use my DSLR, of course not everyone has one or can afford one. For me, I’d rather have a 4meg pixel camera on my iphone so it will save space on my phone, even 3.2 would be great for me. as long as the lenses are of quality. Apple sells flash drives at the most ridiculous prices so maybe they will go to 13megs to push people into buying phones with more gb in space?

    • http://www.facebook.com/salim.vali.52 Salim Vali

      they won’t publish that 13mp camera with a shitty image quality now would they ?

    • SimonReidy

      Exactly. In fact it can mean a worse picture with smartphones, depending on the lighting, lens and sensor size, as the more megapixels, the harder it is for light to get through the tiny smartphone sensor, which means more noise and poor low light photography.

      That’s why HTC’s new flagship ‘One’ phone is moving down to a 4MP sensor using larger pixels + adding optical image stabilisation. It’ll be interesting to see side by side comparisons, as its low light performance should be much better than the iPhone 5 (but whether the One’s 4MP stills can compete with well lit 8MP iPhone 5 photos is another thing).

      I find shots at 100% magnification from my iPhone 5 don’t look very good (colours are “smudgy” and banded) but they downsize perfectly into excellent pictures for web sharing and regular print sizes, so there’s really no need to go higher. One trade off Apple made was with low light on the iPhone 5 which just cranks the ISO, and uses pixel binning to raise the light at the expense of detail, so you never get a clean shot at full resolution.

      Rather than move to an unnecessarily high 13mp for the 5S, I really hope Apple sticks to 8mp, but does more to improve sensor size and technology, and adds something like optical stabilisation for impressive low light photography (the Nokia Lumia 920 is still king in that regard).

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    apple is number one.. iphone and ipad are still un beatable..

    • CollegiateLad

      Wanna swap pics? My middle name is joe. You sound automatically cute!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamesheckiii James Heck III

    The front facing cam on the 5 is rated at 1.2 Mp.

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com/author/dujkan Christian Zibreg

      Yeah, fixed the typo

  • http://www.facebook.com/Makavelli.1 Joseph A. Ahmad

    I’m hoping all of this talk about production slow downs and such mean the iPhone 5S is on the horizon. I’m more interested in iOS 7 at this point, because iOS 6 wasn’t that great of an upgrade besides the calling features and the upgraded UI for the Music App, iTunes, and the App Store. But anyways, I think Apple really needs to step it up with the software and put out some cool features in the native Camera App, because LG is giving them some stiff competition now. And I know, there’s Apps in the App Store than can do the same thing, but it would just be a little more convenient if Apple condensed those features into one place rather than having to go to a third party app all the time for a feature that the competition has stock.

  • Liam Mulcahy

    All of apple rivals are also there suppliers