Huawei may be first to market with a smartphone camera topped with a liquid lens if a recently-sighted patent is any indication. Huawei appears to be taking a different approach to the technology but with a similar planned outcome. Namely, the patent recently approved by the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) points to a mechanical apparatus. That will make autofocus faster, stabilization better, and reduce reliance on secondary sensors.
Huawei's patented liquid lens is comprised of a liquid-filled lens attached to a moving 'stator' which shifts along the direction of the "optical axis" when powered. In effect, it squeezes or pulls the lens through a connected spring. That's all attached to a limiter that keeps movement within a preset distance.
The overall goal, of course, is to adjust the bend of the liquid and thus the lens, to achieve autofocusing and optical image stabilization.
So what, exactly, is a liquid lens?
A liquid lens, as might be imagined, is a lens that's comprised of encapsulated liquid or liquids. Traditional lenses are rigid. So they are stuck with a single focal length or must be physically adjusted to change that, liquid lenses are malleable.
With an electrical field change — a process called electrowetting — the shape of the droplet or droplets can be changed. That, in turn, changes the focal length in a matter of milliseconds completely irrespective of the distance involved. A liquid lens brings a few advantages, as a result.
Not only is the time delay faster in terms of both autofocusing and depth detection. Liquid lenses can ensure better stabilization and require less space than a traditional lens.
Huawei's method for achieving the effect seems to be somewhat different though. Rather than relying solely on electrical fields, it depends on the abovementioned moving parts for a similar effect.
When will Huawei implement Liquid Lens technology?
Now, the appearance of a patent says nothing about when Huawei might choose to incorporate a liquid lens onto one of its smartphones. In fact, the technology has already been around for quite some time, if not in a smartphone. And mobile OEMs have explored the use of liquid lenses in smartphones for years. So the possibility has effectively seemed to become more likely with each passing year.
Most recently, the Samsung Galaxy S20 series — then still tentatively known as the Galaxy S11 — was rumored to feature one. That turned out not to be the case but goes to show that Huawei isn't the first to consider using liquid lenses.
Huawei could succeed in being first to bring a liquid lens to market in a smartphone though. And there are a few plausible options. The first is the Huawei Mate 40 series. Expected to be marketed as the Huawei Mate 40 and Mate 40 Pro, the high-end devices will arrive at some point later on in the year.
Secondary to that, the new lens tech could make its way into yet another device. Namely, the successor of the recently launched Huawei P50 series. Those won't launch until the start of 2021, following on the arrival of the P40 in March. But they'll also likely feature a superior chipset based on current expectations. That could provide all the time and performance needed for Huawei to perfect the complicated camera component for mobile.
Conversely, the company may not choose to utilize this particular liquid lens patent at all.