We tested Apple’s solution for turning your iPhone into a webcam

macOS Ventura and iOS 16, which will be released this fall, introduce a new feature called “Continuity Camera”. It allows you to switch your iPhone camera to a webcam for use in video calling applications.

While in prison, there are probably thousands of us who have become aware of the poor quality of the webcams on our computers. A problem that the manufacturers themselves are well aware of, many of which have announced new functions dedicated to this area since 2020. Some bet on better quality sensors or develop algorithms to improve the image, others prefer software gimmicks (such as face tracking or filters) … The webcam, which we thought had become useless in the time of the smartphone, is once again an important element to take. into consideration when buying a computer.

To solve this problem, during the WWDC conference on June 6, 2022, Apple made the incredible bet of “continuity” between its devices. Rather than drastically increasing the webcam quality of its new Macs (as evidenced by the very average camera of the latest MacBook Air M2), Apple has decided to offer all owners of an iPhone and a Mac to turn their smartphone into a ‘ high definition webcam, capable of functions that a real webcam would never be capable of. How much is it worth? We tried the Continuity Camera first.

Continuity Camera in action, on MacBook Air M2. // Source: numerama

⚠️ A test run with beta versions

First, some important points:

  • Continuity Camera requires macOS Ventura and iOS 16 to run, two updates that will not be available until fall 2022. To run this test, we installed beta versions of these operating systems on a MacBook Air M2 and an iPhone 13 Pro Max. Nothing says Apple will keep Continuity Camera upon launch of its new operating systems or that its operation will not evolve by the final version.
  • To use Continuity Camera, all you need is an iPhone and a Mac. No accessories are required and the function works in Wi-Fi (you must be connected to the same Apple account). However, to use Continuity Camera in optimal conditions, it is better to have a small accessory and hang it at the top of the screen, to keep the iPhone in a good position. Apple will release one when macOS Ventura launches, but it won’t be mandatory. For the sake of this test, we ordered a small, poor quality 3D printed adapter from Amazon. It costs about 10 euros, it will probably break in a few days, but in the meantime it does its duty. Note that the MagSafe cable needed to hold the iPhone is not supplied with it.
webcam
There is no need for a stand to run Continuity Camera, you can put your iPhone anywhere. // Source: numerama

A very simple function to activate

The activation of the Continuity Camera is almost automatic. In FaceTime, Enlarge, facebook messenger or also photo booth, the iPhone is offered in the camera list, as is the built-in FaceTime camera or a webcam connected via USB if you have one. Just select it and your smartphone makes a little noise, freezes the screen and turns into a webcam.

Continuity camera interface
The iPhone is recognized as a lambda webcam. In the Control Center, you can activate Apple-specific options. // Source: Numberama screenshot

To access the iPhone webcam settings, go to the Mac control center. Here you can activate the “Center Frame” function, for face detection, portrait mode or studio lighting, which gives a visual effect to the camera. image, thanks to the iPhone chip.

Two functions are available on the iPhone screen while using the Continuity Camera: “Pause” and “Stop”. The first allows you to do other things and blocks the webcam for a few seconds, the second completely disconnects the webcam and, above all, prevents its subsequent reactivation. To pair the iPhone and Mac again, you need to connect it with a cable. Constrictive, yet practical to prevent an attacker from discreetly spying on you. Only the first connection is made automatically.

Not an easy option to find in some software

On paper, by making the iPhone a video device like any other accessory connected via USB, Apple is supposed to have solved the compatibility problem. The problem is that some software has not been designed to let the user choose the camera, which makes it difficult to activate the Continuity Camera. For example, Google Chrome, which you must use to initiate a Google Meet call, does not recognize the iPhone by default. By manually selecting the option from the Meet settings, it works. On the other hand, Zoom or Messenger, make it easy to select the iPhone.

Maybe Apple should standardize everything by randomly offering in Control Center a way to make the iPhone the default camera? To force its use?

Chrome: ZOOM
Google Chrome, left, struggles with the iPhone’s camera. Zoom, on the right, sees it as a normal webcam. // Source: Numberama screenshot

Visible quality gain

Continuity Camera has two obvious interests:

  • Enhance the quality of your built-in webcam, while offering smart features like center bezel.
  • Add a webcam to a device that does not have one, such as an external monitor (this is the case with the Huawei MateView from the author of this article, who is looking forward to being able to hang his iPhone on the back of the screen to pass video calls looking in front of the camera).

The question then arises: is quality really better? Oddly, we are far from “high definition”. If the image is still a bit blurry (albeit better than that of the MacBook Air), it is above all in terms of colors that we undeniably gain in quality. The image of the MacBook Air is bland, that of the iPhone is quite rich. In low light, the iPhone is the only one that can do well.

Camera differences
MacBook Air 1080p webcam on the left, Continuity Camera on the right. // Source: numerama

Desktop mode disappoints a bit

The other function proposed by Apple is called “Desk View”. What does it correspond to? It’s kind of an algorithmic magic trick. Using the iPhone’s ultra-wide-angle module, the Mac can see what’s in front of it, flips the image, distorts it slightly, and then gives the impression that it has placed a camera just above it, above its user’s desktop. like a mini drone. This allows you to share the view of your notebook or phone with your family (or your students, for example), in order to make a demonstration with good quality. The ultimate goal is to allow you to broadcast both the head and desktop views, for professional demonstrations.

desk view
Desk View uses an ultra-wide angle to give the illusion of being above the desk. // Source: numerama

The office mode was the function that intrigued us the most with Continuity Camera, it is finally the one that disappoints us the most. How come ? Simply because it only works if the angle is perfect. If the stand and screen aren’t at exactly the right angle, the Desk View doesn’t see your desk and shows your belly on the big screen. Algorithmic magic has its limitations.

What happens if someone calls me?

Finally, a question we asked ourselves during our Continuity Camera test, what happens if someone calls us? We were afraid that the iPhone would vibrate, fall and break (#paranoia). Fortunately, Apple has thought of that.

In Continuity Camera mode, the iPhone does not vibrate and its notifications are displayed on the Mac. If the call seems important to you, it is up to you to manually end the call.

Camera for continuity of notifications
When an important notification arrives on iPhone during a Continuity Camera enabled call, the Mac displays it. // Source: Capture Numberama

Continuity Camera has everything from an extremely simple solution that will truly simplify the lives of thousands of users. We can’t wait to see it launched, although we doubt that the majority of users will buy the small accessory from Apple.

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