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?