Slimmer Xenon flashes to hit smartphones in 2014?

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File this under 'Does this really work?' and 'That's an ambitious timescale', but Flash component manufacturer Xenon Technologies, together with researchers from Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU), has developed a new Xenon flash-powering layered polymer capacitor (photo below), far smaller than the 5mm cylindrical capacitors used today in top camera phones like the Nokia N8 and Nokia 808. This should pave the way for slimmer smartphones from 2014 onwards that can have Xenon flash to help light camera functions in low light conditions.

The two capacitor types compared

The (unpackaged) new polymer-based layered capacitor, laid on the Nokia 808's back, along with one of the phone's two (packaged) cylindrical electrolytic capacitors. Note that packaging of the new unit will take it to around 1mm, apparently.

I've ranted for ages (here's a typical piece: One day you'll look back...) about Xenon flash being the only real solution to shots in dim conditions and yet manufacturers refuse to even experiment with Xenon because of the need for one (or two, in the 808's case) 5mm capacitors, to build up the charge needed to fire the flash.

From the original article:

Associate Professor Lee Pooi See from NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering has created a capacitor made from polymers layered together that is able to match the electric charge stored in the electrolytic capacitors used in today's flash units. The best part about this new capacitor is that it is very much smaller, just 1mm thick compared with the 5mm thickness of today's electrolytic capacitors.

A closer view of the polymer capacitor (below) compared with an electrolytic capacitor (just the silver cylindrical part) currently used in xenon flash modules. (Credit: NTU)

Jack Tuen, CEO of Xenon Technologies, claims that there are no drawbacks to the new capacitor compared with current solutions. His company started cooperating with Lee in the development of this new capacitor in August last year, and they hope to have a working prototype by Q3 2013.

The challenge, Tuen added, is in mass producing the capacitors as there are no facilities at present that can manufacture them in large quantities--his company would have to start from scratch in that aspect.

However, he is confident that mobile phone manufacturers will be keen on a slimmer xenon flash that could make its way into a consumer product by end-2014. Tuen said Xenon Technologies has half the world's xenon flash market share for digital cameras and the company also supplies them to mobile phone companies, notable examples being Nokia and Sony.

Addressing the usefulness of current LED lamps in smartphones, Tuen said that his company already makes flash units that integrate both xenon and LED lamps so users don't have to choose between well-lit photos and having an LED for videos or as a flashlight. Using it again as an example, the Nokia PureView 808 sports such a module.

The photos above are a little disingenuous, since just the raw component is shown, rather than the encapsulated/packaged version that can be used in a device. However, a final thickness of 1mm, despite the increase in plan area involved, might be a lot more palatable to someone designing a top smartphone in 2014.

Welcome to the future.

Or, you know, carry on using your Nokia 808 PureView. It's worth noting that the camera bulge in this isn't just the two Xenon capacitors - there's also the size of the 1/1.2" camera module. However, you can imagine a 1/1.8" module (as in the Nokia N8), with a polymer-based Xenon flash, and you'd end up with a smartphone that would be no thicker than the Lumia 920 of today.

Source / Credit: CNet Asia