Qualcomm Pushes for More Dual Cameras in Smartphones

The vendor's Clear Sight technology will deliver better images for mobile devices powered by its Snapdragon 820 and 821 processors.

Snapdragon chip

Qualcomm officials want to accelerate the development of dual-camera smartphones powered by the vendor's Snapdragon 820 and 821 chips with the development of a new technology package called Clear Sight.

According to company officials, Clear Sight takes advantage of the Spectra image signal processor (ISP) in the Snapdragon systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) to offer a technique that they said will produce better images than single cameras by mimicking the human eye. The goal is to enable Android smartphones powered by the Snapdragon SoCs to create photos that are sharper, have greater dynamic range and can operate well in low-light environments.

"The human eye is a great analogy because your eyes contain cells called 'cones' and rods,'" PJ Jacobowitz, senior marketing manager at Qualcomm, wrote in a post on the company blog this week. "Cones are great at capturing color, but require well-lit environments, while rods excel in capturing light in low-light conditions, but don't capture as much color. Clear Sight is designed to mimic cones and rods to give you the best of both worlds, producing an image that has optimal contrast and brightness."

With Clear Sight, the package comes with two cameras, and each has its own lens and image sensor. Similar to the human eye, the lenses can see the same distance, but the image sensors are different. One is a color image sensor, while the other is a black-and-white sensor, according to Jacobowitz. Another difference: the black-and-white sensor had its top layer's color filter removed. By doing so, Qualcomm engineers were able to increase by three times the black-and-white sensor's ability to capture light, which gives it greater contrast and improved sharpness in low-light settings.

"When color information from the other photo is merged, you can get a fantastic image," he wrote.

Clear Sight is essentially a single hardware module that is fully integrated with two cameras and computational low-light imaging algorithms for the Spectra ISPs. The module is designed to enable the cameras to take photos at exactly the same time and instantly merge the photos. Android smartphone makers can incorporate the new technology in their devices that run on Snapdragon 820 or 821 chips.

Dual cameras already are coming to smartphones. Apple offers two cameras on its iPhone 7 Plus although the second camera is used to improve the zooming capabilities of the smartphone. Qualcomm's design is more similar to what Huawei Technologies did with its P9 device, where the cameras—developed in conjunction with Leica—also are separate between one with a color sensor and the other a monochrome sensor.

Qualcomm is the world's top vendor of mobile chips for such devices as Android-based smartphones and tablets. However, the tablet shipments have declined in recent quarters and the smartphone space has seen its growth slow as the market has matured. IDC analysts earlier this month predicted that global smartphone shipments will hit 1.46 billion units this year, a 1.6 percent increase from 2015. That is significantly less than the 10.4 percent growth seen last year, the analysts said.

Qualcomm and other chip makers have begun to push into an array of emerging areas, including the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The company released the Snapdragon 820 earlier this year, and in July unveiled the 821, which is 10 percent faster, is more power efficient and will run applications more quickly. Qualcomm officials are aiming the new Snapdragon 821 not only at smartphones and tablets but also other systems, including VR headsets.