Apple has been granted a patent (number 11,092,773) for a “folded camera with actuator for moving optics.” It hints at a foldable iPhone in the future.

Background of the patent 

In the patent filing, Apple notes that the advent of small, mobile multipurpose devices such as smartphones and tablet or pad devices has resulted in a need for high-resolution, small form factor cameras for integration in the devices. Some small form factor cameras may incorporate an autofocus (AF) mechanism whereby the object focal distance can be adjusted to focus an object plane in front of the camera at an image plane to be captured by the image sensor.

However, iIn some such autofocus mechanisms, the optical lens is moved as a single rigid body along the optical axis of the camera to refocus the camera. A foldable iPhone would have to incorporate a folded camera.

Summary of the patent

Here’s Apple’s abstract of the patent: “Various embodiments include a camera with folded optics and lens shifting capabilities. In some examples, a folded optics arrangement of the camera may include one or more lens elements and light path folding elements (e.g., prisms). Some embodiments include voice coil motor (VCM) actuator arrangements, carrier arrangements, and/or suspension arrangements to provide autofocus (AF) and/or optical image stabilization (OIS) movement. Furthermore, some embodiments include position sensor arrangements for position sensing with respect to AF and/or OIS movement.”

FIG. 1 illustrates a perspective view of an example camera with a folded optics arrangement.

Article provided with permission from AppleWorld.Today