Phone makers are constantly looking to one-up each other with new tech and features, and if its new teasers are legit, Xiaomi might have a real advantage over the competition with what appears to be a liquid camera lens designed for an upcoming Mi Mix phone.
Based on a handful of images and a clip shared on Weibo, Xiaomi is trying to replace the traditional glass elements and focusing motors used in today’s smartphone camera lenses with a liquid lens that can be controlled and adjusted by applying an electrical charge. This would allow the lens to change shape to focus on subjects of varying distances, with Xiaomi claiming the tech will result in longer zooms and faster autofocus than traditional smartphone camera lenses.
While the idea of a liquid lens might seem a bit strange or far out, the principle is actually quite similar to the way human eye works. Light enters the eye through your cornea, passes through the iris, and is then focused by your eye’s crystalline layer and aqueous fluid before eventually hitting your retina.
Currently, due to their cost and complexity, liquid lenses are typically reserved for specialised industrial uses where traditional glass lenses may be too brittle or delicate. However, this isn’t the first time a smartphone company has teased the idea of a liquid camera lens, with Huawei having patented its own liquid lens last year.
The big advantage of a liquid lens is that it could allow smartphone companies to use the same lens for a range of focal distances while still being thin enough to fit in a phone. This stands in stark contrast to today’s phones, which use multiple image sensors each with their own lens to support provide a device’s primary, ultra-wide, macro, and telephoto cameras.
The current approach is sort of a brute force method enabled by the fact that adding additional image sensors to a device is relatively inexpensive, which resulted in some companies creating devices with huge numbers of lenses on their backs (see the Nokia 9 PureView and Light L16).
Xiaomi’s liquid lens might not be quite ready for consumer devices just yet, but demoing its liquid lens on a new Mi Mix concept makes a lot of sense, because Xiaomi has historically used the Mi Mix line to test out new designs or tech the company is researching. Other concepts the company has tried include the Mi Mix Alpha from 2019 with its wrap-around screen and the portless Mi Mix concept from earlier this year.
While not much else is known about the upcoming Mi Mix, Xiaomi says it will reveal the device on March 29, so we won’t have to wait long to find out more.