We tested Apple’s solution to turn your iPhone into a webcam

macOS Ventura and iOS 16, which will be released this fall, will introduce a new capability called “Continuity Camera”. This allows you to pass your iPhone’s camera in front of a webcam, to use it in applications intended for video calls.

During the incarceration there are probably thousands of us who realized the poor quality of the webcams on our computers. An issue that the manufacturers themselves are well aware of, many of whom have been announcing new features for this area since 2020. Some bet on better quality sensors or develop algorithms to improve the image, others prefer software gimmicks (such as facial recognition or filters)… The webcam, which we thought had become useless in the time of the smartphone, is now Again an important element to take into consideration when buying a computer.

To solve this problem, Apple made the astonishing gamble of “continuity” between its devices at its WWDC conference on June 6, 2022. Rather than drastically increase the webcam quality of its new Macs (the very average camera of the latest MacBook Air M2 attests to this), Apple has decided to offer all iPhone and Mac owners to transform their smartphones into a high-definition webcam, capable of functions that a real webcam never could. What’s it worth? We tried Continuity Camera first.

Continuity camera in action, on a MacBook Air M2. // Source: Numerama

⚠️ A test run with beta versions

First a few important points:

  • Continuity Camera requires macOS Ventura and iOS 16, two updates that won’t be available until fall 2022. To conduct this test, we installed beta versions of these operating systems on a MacBook Air M2 and an iPhone 13 Pro Max. Nothing says that Apple will keep Continuity Camera with the launch of its new operating systems or that its operation won’t evolve with the final version.
  • To operate Continuity Camera, all you need is an iPhone and a Mac. No accessory is required and the feature 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 your screen, to keep the iPhone well in place. Apple will release one when macOS Ventura launches, but it’s not required. For this test, we ordered a small, poor-quality 3D-printed adapter from Amazon. It costs about 10 euros, will probably break in a few days, but in the meantime it does the job. Please note that the MagSafe cable needed to hold the iPhone is not included.
webcam
You don’t need support to use Continuity Camera, you can put your iPhone anywhere. // Source: Numerama

A very easy feature to activate

Continuity camera activation is almost automatic. In FaceTime, Zoom, Facebook messenger or even photo booth, the iPhone is offered in the list of cameras, as well as the integrated FaceTime camera or a webcam connected via USB, if you have one. Just select it and your smartphone will make a small sound, lock the screen and turn into a webcam.

Continuity Camera Interface
The iPhone is recognized as a lambda webcam. In the control center, you can activate options specific to Apple. //Source: Numerama screenshots

To access your iPhone webcam settings, go to the Mac’s control center. Here you can activate the “Centered frame” function, for face tracking, portrait mode or studio lighting, which, thanks to the chip of the iPhone, gives a visual effect to the image.

Two functions are offered on the iPhone screen while using Continuity Camera: “Pause” and “Stop”. The first lets you do something else and freezes the webcam for a few seconds, the second disconnects the webcam and most importantly prevents it from reactivating afterwards. To re-pair the iPhone and Mac, it must be connected with a wire. Limited, but practical to prevent a malicious person from spying on you discreetly. Only the first connection is made automatically.

An option not easy to find in some software

On paper, Apple would have solved the compatibility problem by turning the iPhone into a video device like any other USB-connected accessory. The problem is that some software is not designed to leave the choice of camera to the user, which makes activating Continuity Camera complicated. For example, Google Chrome, which you have to go through to initiate a Google Meet call, doesn’t recognize the iPhone by default. Selecting the option manually in the Meet settings will make it work. On the other hand, Zoom or Messenger, they make it easy to select iPhone.

Maybe Apple should standardize everything by randomly offering a way to make iPhone the default camera in Control Center? 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: Numerama screenshots

Visible quality gain

Continuity Camera has two clear interests:

  • Improve the quality of your built-in webcam while giving you smart features such as a center frame.
  • Adding a webcam to a device that doesn’t have one, such as an external monitor (this is the case with the Huawei MateView from the author of this article, who can’t wait to put his iPhone on the back of the screen to relay video calls while you are looking in front of the camera).

The question then arises: is the quality really better? Strangely enough, we are far from “high definition”. If the image is still a little blurry (although better than that of the MacBook Air), it is mainly in terms of colors that we undeniably gain in quality. The image of the MacBook Air is dull, that of the iPhone is rather rich. In poor lighting conditions, 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 feature brought up 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 manages to see what’s in front of it, flip the image, distort it a bit, and then give the impression of having a camera positioned just above it. like a mini drone. It allows you to share the view of your notebook or your phone with your family (or your students for example) to perform a good quality demonstration. The end goal is to enable you to broadcast both your main and desktop display for professional demonstrations.

desk view
The Desk View uses an ultra-wide angle to create the illusion that you are above your desk. // Source: Numerama

The office mode was the feature that intrigued us the most with Continuity Camera, it is ultimately the one that disappoints us the most. Why ? Simply because it only works when the angle is perfect. If the stand and the screen are not exactly at the right angle, the Desk View will not see the desk and you will see your belly on the large screen. Algorithmic magic has its limits.

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 the iPhone would vibrate, fall and break (#paranoia). Fortunately, Apple has thought of that.

In Continuity Camera mode, iPhone does not vibrate and notifications appear on Mac. If the conversation seems important to you, it’s up to you to end the conversation manually.

Notification Continuity Camera
When an important notification arrives on iPhone during a call with Continuity Camera enabled, the Mac displays it. // Source: Capture Numerama

Continuity Camera has everything from an extremely simple solution, which will indeed simplify the lives of thousands of users. We can’t wait to see it launch, even though we doubt a majority of users will buy the little accessory from Apple.

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