Over the last two years, MEMS Drive, Inc. has been busy at work completing the development of a MEMS actuator that moves the image sensor to compensate for shake and dramatically improve picture quality for future cellphone cameras. This amazing technology, which was first publicly demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona about eight months ago, is now getting ready to leave the lab and enter the market. According to Business Wire, Walden International and Cross-Border Venture Capital Firm led an $11 million Series B round to enable MEMS Drive "to support customer deliveries and to work with [their] eco-systems partners to bring product to market".
The day when we will get to experience true optical image stabilization in our phones inches closer. Stay tuned!
In today’s day and age, you can find the answer to any question that pops to mind by simply searching on the internet. Or can you? I may have found a simple question that stumps even the best search engines. The meaning of life? Nope. It’s the thickness of a smartphone. I don’t mean the number manufacturers put on their website and on press releases, but the real thickness. As you know, right around where the camera is located, most smartphones have a huge unsightly “camera bump”. Yet, the thickness quoted for the smartphone does not include the annoying protrusion.
Yes, I have Googled it, Binged it, you name it. I still can’t find the real thickness for any phone with a bump, or the height of the bump. What makes it worse is that smartphone manufacturers appear to take this as a license to grow the height of this deformity unchecked.
So I finally broke down and did what any engineer would do. I grabbed my handy caliper, one of the nice metal ones with the analog gauge on it, and headed down to my local T-mobile store to get some data. Once I got there, I almost chickened out. What would people think if I suddenly pulled out a metal object from my pocket? Would they call the police? Would I end up as an outline painted on the floor with the caliper in hand? So I asked the attendant if she knew how much the camera protrudes from the back surface of the phone. Not only did she did not know, but she was surprised to learn that the numbers on the spec did not include the bump. Yes. Me too. After I told her that the real thickness information was apparently not in the internet, she hesitantly agreed to let me measure the phones on display in the store with my caliper, as long as I did not damage them.
As I walked over to the first phone display with caliper in hand, I still got some looks from some of the customers in the store. I explained to them what I was doing and why, but I guess it’s not every day that a customer decides to bring a caliper into the store to compare the thickness of phones. “You are really dedicated” a young woman with too much eyeliner and short blond hair said to me. “That’s crazy, man” slanged a guy with shorts drooping down to his ankles and a baseball cap worn sideways. As people gathered around me, it became hard to concentrate, but I did my best to methodically measure the phones and jot down the results.
Out of Tech Radar’s top ten smartphones for 2016, I only found five of them in the store. Here’s the initial data:
There are likely errors in my measurements, as they were taken under much less than ideal circumstances. However, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the bump height is a significant percentage of the phone thickness (20% to 30%), and varies significantly from phone to phone. And compared to the iPhone 6 that I currently own, the iPhone 7 is definitely thicker.
If you have a phone with a camera bump and a caliper, please measure the thickness where the camera is located and post a comment with the phone model and your measurement. If I get enough additional results, I will pull them together and publish them on another post. This way we can all benefit and become more informed smartphone buyers. And the internet will have one less question it cannot answer.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that one of MEMS Start’s portfolio companies, L1Optics, uses something called active alignment technology to, among other things, enable thinner lenses for cellphone cameras to reduce or even eliminate the aforementioned bump.