Cameras and the iPad: A Mistake?

I love my iPad 2, it’s certainly found its place in my life. There is, however, one key feature of the iPad 2 that doesn’t really fit. I don’t believe that the cameras, as they currently stand, are really on a par with the rest of the device.

Apple has often been derided for its seeming inability to put effective cameras in its devices. For a company that so often gets things right, was putting cameras in the iPad 2 a mistake?

In Theory

The truth is, I have some issues with incorporating cameras into tablets in the first place. Taking photos using either of the cameras is clumsy and uncomfortable, and the same is relatively true for shooting videos. It certainly looks odd when someone points an iPad at you…

The rear-facing camera.

The saving grace for the iPad is FaceTime and the mildly entertaining Photo Booth-style opportunities. I don’t have a reason to use FaceTime regularly, but when I have I’ve found that the experience does work an iPad. It can even help to justify the rear facing camera, sometimes you need to show someone something, or just take the focus off your face.

FaceTime

Regarding Photo Booth, the iPad is actually a perfectly suitable device for photographic japes. It’s portable and can easily be passed around friends, the results are never going to be masterpieces, but that’s sort of the point.

Japes...

Apart from the two uses I have described above, the two that are featured on Apple’s site itself, I can’t really see the purpose in cameras on a tablet – especially when the iPhone has them, and will be able to share them via the iCloud.

It’s still worth having the cameras, if they fit in, for the above uses. But, only if they’re good and fit for the purposes described – which leads me rather handily onto the next section.

In Practice

The problem I have with incorporating cameras into tablets is actually significantly exacerbated by the current iPad 2 cameras. Here is the crux of the matter, they’re just plain bad.

Apple gets a lot of things right, but it feels like the cameras on the iPad 2 were included just to satisfy consumer opinion that it probably should have cameras. Rather than look into ways of including the fantastic camera in the iPhone 4, Apple went with a 720p rear facing camera that’s pretty much identical to the one in the iPod Touch.

iFixit's teardown shows the camera component.

There’s a reason that the iPhone 4 camera is now the most popular camera on Flickr, people actually care about the quality of their photos.

Even for the simple use of Photo Booth and FaceTime the two cameras feel inadequate, they’re low resolution and it shows. It’s actually a little embarrassing to show someone a photo taken with the iPad 2′s camera on the iPad, unless you’ve grunged it up or manipulated it to within an inch of its life.

It’s even more mean of Apple to include the VGA and 720p cameras on a device with such a glorious screen, it merely emphasises and compounds the inadequacies of the cameras.

Final Thoughts

I think that cameras could be truly useful on a tablet, but only if the quality matches the required use. In some ways I’m surprised that Apple did include these specific cameras on the iPad 2, when it only really made sense to fill out the feature list. Was including the iPhone 4 camera not possible due to cost? Or is Apple waiting for a further iteration of the iPad?

Does Apple truly believe in the cameras on the iPad enough to include good component parts and improve the image sensors over time? The current evidence would suggest not, but we’ll have to see.

Your Thoughts

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts – simply post a comment below! Do you like the cameras on the iPad 2? What do you use them for? Will the next iteration of the iPad have vastly improved cameras?


  • Netquity

    From a consumer perspective I received the camera option with it’s low resolution and limited capabilities with indifference. However developing from a business application perspective it has been invaluable.

  • C

    a 12 megapixel camera would KILL video conferencing due to bandwidth overload

    • Drew

      MP doesn’t necessarily matter. Compression is taken care of with apple’s facetime protocol. That’s where things are adjusted accordingly for bandwidth purposes.

      It’s always better to have a high res and downgrade from there then just having a poor res and serving that up.

  • MacUserDO

    I would have considered replacing my iPad with an iPad 2 if Apple had included decent cameras, but things being as they are, I’ll definitely wait for the iPad 3.

    A big part of the joy of owning an Apple device comes from knowing that what you get is best-of-class in every aspect. So the fact that these cameras are mediocre at best is a great disappointment.

    I am sure Apple won’t dare to risk frustrating their customers again, so iPad 3 will certainly be much better in this regard, and I also expect it to have a higher screen resolution.

  • http://cansurmeli.com C@N

    Well the usage of the cameras in an iPad is not as crucial as on an iPhone but we need them anyway.

    BUT Apple definitely has to improve it’s cameras qualities on the iPad because they suck.

  • Lucas Rolff

    I bought the iPad 2, for some time ago, great device, and I use it alot to do my work, reading books from Sitepoint and Rockablepress on, one day I remembered – “Hey, there’s a camera in this device!”… I had not tested it out – So I opened the Camera Application, and got very very disappointed, all that Noice on the camera – It was crap really – I had expected more from the Camera when the Camera in iPhone 4 is that great – I know the device is cheaper – But wasn’t it the Screen in the iPhone 4 that was the most expensive thing?

  • http://branandjuli.com Brandon

    The camera could stand to use a quality upgrade, sure, but I don’t think we should expect too much for the ipad. I want the camera to be able to video skype/chat/etc with and that’s just about it. I’d never consider seriously using it for photos or important video, so the lack in quality doesn’t really phase me.

  • http://www.hammyhavoc.com Hammy Havoc

    If I wanted to take stunning photographs, I’d use a DSLR. If I want to utilise augmented reality or take a quick snap of something for a colleague or utilise the cameras on the iPad for communications; Perfect.
    The sensors are tiny; The quality is pretty great in my opinion.

  • http://www.scottwills.co.uk Scott

    Totally agree, Joel. The camera in the iPad 2 is woeful! I actually think some of the images on the Apple Web site where the camera promo is concerned are grossly misleading. Even calling the video “HD” is scraping the barrel too with 720p. As much as we’re all agreed that the iPad 2 is an awesome device, it’s refreshing that you posted an article on one of the big disappointments with the iPad 2. That’s called good/well-rounded editorial, nice work. :-)

  • Alderaic

    Well I think it is a good move for many small applications, like skype etc… combined with a 3G ipad it makes sense.

    Then there is always the good option to scan barcodes etc… using an ipad for the applications X-Y-Z so it doesnt impair the ipad versus an ipod or an iphone for any applications.

    Then again they could have made a better choice but it still was needed for them and if they were short on time, it makes sense that they could not get a better camera.

    Next versions will likely have better cameras but I still bought the ipad 2 because it had a camera (I didnt buy the 1 because of that)

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