Rumors of a ‘budget’ iPhone have done the rounds lately, I’ve also did a post on the subject here. However, it seems that Apple is at least contemplating such a device according to US patent 8, 364,032 –Light isolating protective cover for small form factor electronic device.
According to the patent abstract:
[quote] A portable device has a rear facing camera assembly and a front facing display assembly that includes at least a protective cover layer, a display stack that includes a plurality of display components arranged in a plurality of interconnected layers, the display stack providing an imaging service, and a flat support chassis arranged to provide support for the display stack. In the described embodiment, a protective cover can wrap around and protect at least the rear portion of the portable device without adversely affecting an image capture process carried out by the rear facing camera assembly.[/quote]
Based on the patent background, Apple anticipates that an iPhone with a plastic back cover and a built in flash on a rear facing camera is not a good combination for photo taking. In this case, the device in question is more than likely to be a ‘budget’ iPhone.
Here is Apple’s description of one of the challenges of having flash on an iPhone with plastic cover:
[quote] In order to accommodate a rear facing camera assembly, the typical cover provides a suitably sized and shaped opening in the protective cover. However, when the light source (usually a form of flash or strobe) is used to illuminate a subject, some of the light emitted by the light source can be reflected into the area between an inside surface of the cover and an exterior surface of the small form factor electronic device. At least some of this reflected light can make its way to the lens portion of the camera assembly where it can be added to the light received from the illuminated subject having the potential to adversely affect the quality of the captured image. For example, when the cover is formed of a material that can absorb and reflect light (such as plastic), the color of the reflected light can be shifted towards the color of the cover. In this way, the substantially white light provided by the light source can be color shifted to the color of the cover causing serious color contamination of the captured image, which may or may not be correctable.[/quote]
Looking back, all the earlier models of the iPhone with plastic backs did not have flash for the rear camera. Hence, Apple sees the need to solve this problem in the upcoming ‘budget’ iPhone.
Update: As pointed out by Mark Scierbecker below via Chris Burns of Slashgear, this patent is clearly referring to a case cover for the iPhone and not the actual backplate of an iPhone.
Please accept my apology. Thank you.