Underscreen camera race is on as Apple's iPhone faces Google Pixel patent push

Apple iPhone 14
(Image credit: iMore)

Google has filed a patent that details a camera, or even multiple cameras, that can live under a smartphone’s display, according to Patently Apple.

A camera under a phone display may not sound like a big deal, but picture all of the latest smartphones. Each of them have got some sort of notch or punch hole to accommodate the front-facing camera, which then ends up impacting the size and shape of the overall display. Think the iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island for instance — a relatively elegant solution to a clunky problem. For Google specifically, a camera located underscreen would mean getting rid of the Pixel 7’s camera punch hole.

The patent details how this under display camera would work, suggesting that to get rid of a notch or cutout or punch hole, there would need to be an emissive display – a display that creates and emits direct light. One or several areas of the display would need to transmit light to reach the camera sensor that would be under the phone’s main screen.

The important part is – obviously – that the display continues to perform the functions it needs to and isn’t disrupted by the light getting to the camera sensor. As in, you can still use your phone screen, even when you use the camera.

Who'll make the first move?

Google isn't the first tech company to apply for a patent to pack tech under a phone’s display.

Back in 2022, Apple also filed for a patent to turn the iPhone’s screen and display into a camera. Apple's application suggests that the front-facing camera and other sensors of an iPhone could all be moved under a organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display.

We've also heard predictions from tech industry insiders about more sensors under our phone screens. Back in 2022, display chain analyst Ross Young claimed that the iPhone design will change to a completely under-display Face ID system within the next several years and, by 2026, the iPhone's camera will be hidden away down there too.

The big question now is: which tech company will be the first to pack more tech and that all-important camera sensor under your phone's screen?

Becca Caddy

Becca Caddy is a contributor to iMore, as well as a freelance journalist and author. She’s been writing about consumer tech and popular science for more than a decade, covering all kinds of topics, including why robots have eyes and whether we’ll experience the overview effect one day. She’s particularly interested in VR/AR, wearables, digital health, space tech and chatting to experts and academics about the future. She’s contributed to TechRadar, T3, Wired, New Scientist, The Guardian, Inverse and many more. Her first book, Screen Time, came out in January 2021 with Bonnier Books. She loves science-fiction, brutalist architecture, and spending too much time floating through space in virtual reality. Last time she checked, she still holds a Guinness World Record alongside iMore Editor in Chief Gerald Lynch for playing the largest game of Tetris ever made, too.