Our smartphones are about to become a whole lot smarter.


Going forward, we’re not simply going to see subsequent iterations of our devices getting smaller and and faster. No. They’re going to get more and more kitted out with cool new technology, as is in evidence with the new iPhone. Which comes equipped with freakin’ laser beams.


This month, Apple is introducing its new set of iPhones. One of these includes a premium model that can perform 3D scans of objects. Objects like… your face.


Why? Well, so you don’t have to use your fingerprint or a passcode to log in to your phone anymore. Just hold it up and it will recognise you. But what’s to stop a thief holding up a photo of you and getting into your phone? Those laser beams. The camera isn’t just looking at your face. The lasers are working out the contours of your face shape and features.


Though Apple hasn’t been explicit about the actual tech they’ve used to do this, there are similar out there. One of these is the Spectra, by Qualcomm. The system sprays out infrared dots to gather info about the depth of an object based on the size and contortion of the dots. Smaller dots mean the object’s closer; larger dots mean it’s further away. Then, the patterns are stitched together by the imaging system, resulting in a digital 3D representation of your face. Then it compares what it’s ‘seeing’ with its memory of your face to unlock the phone. Apparently, the likelihood of bypassing facial recognition with the incorrect face is 1 in a million.


But it’s not just the login functionality that makes the laser tech in the new iPhone so impressive. There are more applications; augmented reality applications.


Depth-sensing cameras are key to the rise of augmented reality. And augmented reality is Apple’s star pupil right now. The recently-launched Apple ARKit is the evidence of the company’s commitment to pushing AR. Ikea has been quick to jump on the wagon of possibilities that ARKit has unleashed.


Ikea’s coming app, Ikea Place. Ikea’s been playing around with AR for a good few years now, but ARKit is finally allowing the furniture megalith to put its ideas to full use. This vid shows how it works.


Ikea is, of course, not alone in clamouring to get going with the Apple ARKit. The Food Network is developing an AR app with the platform that allows you to create custom digital desserts, then receive the recipe for making them in real life. Then there’s AR zombies from AMC’s Walking Dead. And, as a final example, Giphy is going to launch AR gifs which you can place in real life locations and video to share on social media.


Apple, of course, has serious competition for the AR crown.  Samsung has also recently introduced the Galaxy Note 8, with its fast dual-lens camera as the signature feature. In April, Facebook announced Camera Effects Platform, an environment for software developers to build augmented-reality apps for Facebook. Google has also unveiled ARCore, an augmented-reality toolkit for Android devices (nice, original name you’ve got there, Google!).


As research scientist at Mozilla, Blair MacIntyre told the New York Times, augmented reality on smartphones is a stopgap to the inevitable: wearing data in front of your face at all times through some kind of headset.


“2018 will be the year where the smartphone camera takes a quantum leap in technology,” says Philip-James Jacobowitz, a product manager for Qualcomm, a chip maker that provides components to smartphone makers. Judging by all this news, he could be right.