Chinese company HT Optical is developing a 360-degree camera module that's meant to be compact enough to fit into any contemporary smartphone, the firm revealed during the latest iteration of Mobile World Congress (MWC) that started in Shanghai earlier this week. The device is said to be compatible with handsets that are up to 7.6mm thin while still allowing for 16-megapixel imagery, though no other specifics on its design have yet been given.
The module is reportedly extremely thin, adding only around 1mm in thickness to its host device and being significantly more convenient than some of the company's previous creations that can be seen in the gallery beneath this writing, featured on ProTruly's range of experimental smartphones. HT Optical currently isn't prepared to share any images of its device that's still in development and likely won't be commercialized until some point in 2018, though the company implied that the camera will revolutionize 360 photography and video recording, providing consumers with a much more compact option for adopting this emerging multimedia format.
HT Optical is far from the only company working on 360-degree cameras, even in the context of developing such devices strictly as smartphone accessories. The recently announced Essential PH-1 was designed around the concept of modularity and will launch alongside a dedicated 360 camera module that will magnetically snap onto its case, while Samsung's Gear 360 (2017) can work as a standalone unit but still provides many more functionalities when paired with a handset. Numerous other consumer electronics manufacturers are currently working or already retailing similar creations, though it's still unclear whether 360 cameras for smartphones are just a fad or a rising trend that's here to stay and change the industry forever. Most industry watchers agree that their fate is closely tied to that of virtual reality (VR) products and services, with such modules being used to create content that's best experienced with a VR headset. If the average consumer still doesn't own a head-mounted VR display in the near future, content creators may not have an incentive to adopt this emerging format seeing how the existing market will likely be saturated due to growth stagnation, which could ultimately be the end for both industries.