The iPad 2 was only announced five days ago, and won't ship until late this week, but already we're seeing the beginnings of a small backlash against the device's two cameras. The strongest criticism comes from Wired, in an article entitled "Just How Bad Is The iPad 2 Camera?"--which was also published on CNN.com, giving it a lot of extra exposure. And Wired isn't alone in the criticism.
The basic thesis of the article is that Apple might have been better served by leaving cameras out altogether than by adding in cameras as poor in quality as the ones they chose. In fact, the camera will shoot images at less than one megapixel. Yikes.
The article's opening line sets the tone:
"It seems impossible for Apple to put a decent camera into anything but the iPhone, and despite many hopes, both cameras in the iPad 2 are about as rudimentary as you could get without having to load a roll of film in there."
The image quality is going to be similar to early 1990's-era digital cameras. And that's strange for several reasons, not the least of which is that higher quality cameras are commonplace these days--the average flip phone camera takes photos at higher than 1MP resolution.
But it's not that Apple is clueless about cameras--quite the opposite, in fact. The iPhone 4's camera is fantastic, and rivals the best smart-phone cameras on the market.
BUT, What About The Camera's Video Capability?
Video is only growing in importance and it appears that Apple gets it as opposed to the first iteration of the device. This time, with regard to capturing video, they included 2 cameras in the device (intended for use with facetime). And, despite the poor image quality for stills, it appears that the video camera at the back of the device is 720p capable with up to 30 frames/sec. Although not full HD, the video capability is inline with that of the Motorola Zoom, flip cameras, and many other devices.
That being said, the front camera is only VGA video which confers a resolution of no more than 800X600 in 4:3 format so you'd be better off using the camera in the back. Unfortunately, unlike the iPhone, there is no video light/flash and so you will need to capture video in situations where light is not scarce.
So What Gives?
1. Maybe better cameras would have raised the price too much. Perhaps Apple compromised, and had to use cheaper cameras because they spent their budget on a slimmer case, a dual-core processor, or a fancy newfangled magnetic cover.
2. Maybe Apple didn't make this device for people who want high quality images. The most common defense of the original iPad that I heard from fanboys was this: "you just don't get it... they didn't make it for you." And you know what? I'm willing to believe that, to a degree. Maybe Apple wants to make consuming web-based content super easy for the non-tech crowd: grandparents, soccer moms, etc.
3. Maybe Apple's research showed that still images weren't that important to prospective iPad 2 owners. That's possible. But if so... then why put them in at all?
Whatever apple's reason for choosing low-quality cameras for the iPad 2, I think it was a mistake but Im pleased that the video camera in the back of the device is inline with the times.
Will It Hurt Sales?
Probably not. People who are in the sweet spot of potential buyers for this device are probably not going to be stopped in their tracks by a sub-par camera. And people who are most motivated by camera specs aren't likely to be on the hunt for a tablet device anyway for the primary purpose of capturing image or video content.
But sooner or later these two groups are going to begin to merge. And I guess that's why Apple's choice here is baffling to me. People want the ability to capture stills and video footage wherever they may be in life... at any time. And eventually, they're going to demand that any device with a camera have a camera that actually takes a decent picture.
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