Xiaomi Mi MIX Will Use A Liquid Lens That Imitates The Human Eye: Tech Behind It Explained

The next version of Xiaomi's flagship Mi Mix smartphone will sport something called Liquid Lens technology, which allows macro and telephoto lenses to co-exist.


Smartphone maker Xiaomi is bringing back the Mi Mix series of smartphones, the company announced via a Weibo post today. The company hasn’t launched a new Mi Mix device in two years, but it seems close to bringing the series back now. “I’m coming back,” states the post. Xiaomi also issued a statement, saying, “Xiaomi MIX returns after two years! Due to its endless technical strength, it will live up to the expectations of hundreds of millions of users.” The company is expected to host an event in China on March 29, which people now expect, will bring us the first look at the new Mix. 

The company is also expected to announced the Mi 11 Pro and Mi 11 Ultra at the event, alongside devices like the Mi Mix Fold, a new Mi Notebook Pro and a new Mi Air Purifier. Xiaomi founder, Lei Jun, had earlier said that the company will be bringing a Mix 4 smartphone sometime this year, and a Xiaomi branded tablet will also make it to the market soon.

What is liquid lens technology?

Xiaomi’s Mi Mix smartphones have usually been associated with big breakthroughs from the company’s research and development (R&D) department, so a liquid lens on the Mi Mix 4 or the Mi Mix Fold would fit the bill. 

Liquid lens technology is different from traditional lenses in how they handle focusing for cameras. So, traditional lenses use two lenses with fixed focal lenses, and adjust the distance between them to change the focal length of the camera. While this is easy on a DSLR camera, where there’s more space, on smartphones it limits the kind of things camera and phone makers can do.

The liquid lens tech, on the other hand, literally passes light through a liquid in order to vary the focal length of the camera. This, in a way, is the same principle that’s used in the optics of human eyes. So, smartphone makers won’t have to put separate lenses for telephoto and macro cameras. 

When a current or voltage is applied to the liquid inside these lenses, it changes the shape of the cell. This change will happen within milliseconds, which keeps cameras from being slower, meaning you won’t have to wait between shifts in focal lengths. The shifting shape makes liquid lenses useful for any kind of use case where rapid imaging requirements are needed. Apart from the telephoto and macro use case mentioned above, these could also be useful for drones, where fast focusing can come in handy.

In a liquid lens, a motor can control the shape of the liquid inside by passing electricity through it. It’s also said to achieve faster focusing and is smaller overall, compared to traditional solutions. And of course, manufacturers save space in the fact that their camera modules will get smaller overall as well, freeing up space for other hardware. Even if they don’t use other hardware, more space inside could simply mean better cooling during gaming and other performance heavy tasks.

The new Mi Mix Fold is expected to use this company’s Liquid Lens technology, and Xiaomi has said this will be the first phone using a liquid lens. A motor will control the focusing on the lens and change the shapes of the spherical surface to fit the shooting requirements. Given that the technology is not only adaptive, but also smaller, the company could make good use of it on a foldable device, where space constraints are even more important.

Are liquid lenses new?

As far as technology goes though, liquid lenses are new only in the sense that Xiaomi is bringing it to the mainstream. Huawei had registered a patent for this technology about a year ago, and companies have been researching this tech for quite a while now. There have also been reports that Samsung has liquid lens-based products in the works, and the company was expected to launch the first such devices back in 2015.