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

macOS Ventura and iOS 16, releasing this fall, will introduce a new feature called Continuity Camera. You can use your iPhone’s camera as a webcam to use in video calling applications.

During detention, thousands of us probably noticed the poor quality of the webcams on our computers. A problem of which the manufacturers themselves are aware, many of whom have announced 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 face tracking or filters)… The webcam, which we considered useless in the smartphone era, is again an important element to consider when buying a computer .

To solve this problem, Apple made the amazing bet on “continuity” between its devices during its WWDC conference on June 6, 2022. Instead of drastically increasing the quality of the webcam on its new Macs (the very average camera on the latest MacBook Air M2 is a testament to this), Apple has decided to offer all iPhone and Mac owners the opportunity to turn their smartphone into a high-definition webcam with features that a real webcam could never provide. what is it worth We tried the walkthrough camera first.

Walkthrough 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 to run, 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 Apple will keep Continuity Camera when its new operating systems launch, or that its operations won’t evolve until the final release.
  • All you need to operate the doorway camera is an iPhone and a Mac. No accessory is required and the function works in Wi-Fi (you must be connected to the same Apple account). However, to use the pass-through camera in optimal conditions, it is better to have a small accessory and hang it on the top of your screen to keep the iPhone in a good position. Apple will release one when macOS Ventura launches, but it won’t be mandatory. For this test, we ordered a small, poor-quality 3D-printed adapter from Amazon. Costs around 10 euros, will probably break in a few days, but it’s doing its job now. Please note that the MagSafe cable needed to hold the iPhone is not included.
You don’t need any support to run the walkthrough camera, you can put your iPhone anywhere. // Source: Numerama

A very easy feature to activate

The doorway camera is activated almost automatically. in the FaceTime, zoom, Facebook Messenger or 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 available. Just select it and your smartphone will make a small noise, lock its screen and turn into a webcam.

Continuity Camera Interface
The iPhone is recognized as a Lambda webcam. You can enable Apple-specific options in Control Center. // Source: Numerama screenshots

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

Two functions are offered on the iPhone screen while using Continuity Camera: “Pause” and “Stop”. The former allows something else and freezes the webcam for a few seconds, the latter completely disconnects the webcam and most importantly prevents it from being activated again afterwards. To pair the iPhone and Mac again, it needs to be connected with a cable. Restrictive but handy to prevent someone with bad intentions from discreetly spying on you. Only the first connection is established automatically.

An option not easy to find in some software

On paper, Apple is said to have solved the compatibility problem by making the iPhone a video device like any other USB-connected accessory. The problem is that some software isn’t designed to give the user the choice of camera, making enabling the 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. By manually selecting the option in the Meet settings it works. On the other hand, Zoom or Messenger, they make it easy to select iPhone.

Maybe Apple should standardize everything by randomly offering a way in Control Center 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: Numerama screenshots

Visible gain in quality

The pass-through camera has two obvious interests:

  • Improve the quality of your integrated webcam while preserving smart features like the midframe.
  • Adding a webcam to a device that doesn’t have one, such as a an external monitor (this is the case with the Huawei MateView of the author of this article, who can’t wait to be able to hang his iPhone on the back of the screen to share video calls while you face the camera).

This begs the question: is the quality really better? Oddly enough, we’re a long way from “high definition”. Even if the image is still a little blurry (albeit better than the MacBook Air), we undeniably gain in quality, especially in the colors. The image of the MacBook Air is bland, that of the iPhone rather saturated. Only the iPhone can perform well in low light conditions.

camera differences
MacBook Air 1080p webcam on left, pass-through camera on right. // Source: Numerama

The desktop mode is a bit disappointing

The other feature Apple is proposing is called “Desk View”. What does it correspond to? It’s like an algorithmic magic trick. Using the iPhone’s ultra wide-angle lens, the Mac manages to see what’s in front of it, rotates the image, distorting it slightly, and then makes it appear as if it has a camera placed directly above it, over the desktop of its user. like a mini drone. So you can share the view of your notebook or phone with your family (or eg your students) to do a good quality demonstration. The end goal is to allow you to broadcast both your head and desktop view for professional demonstrations.

desk view
Desk view uses an ultra wide angle to give the illusion of being above your desk. // Source: Numerama

Office mode was the feature that intrigued us the most about the Continuity Camera, after all it’s the one that disappoints us the most. Why ? Simply because it only works when the angle is perfect. If the stand and screen aren’t at exactly the right angle, the Desk View won’t see the desk and will show your belly on the big screen. Algorithmic magic has its limits.

What happens if someone calls me?

Finally, a question we asked ourselves during our pass-through camera test: what happens when someone calls us? We were afraid that the iPhone would vibrate, fall and break (#paranoia). Thankfully, Apple thought of that.

In Pass-Through Camera mode, the iPhone doesn’t vibrate and its notifications appear on the Mac. If the call is important to you, you must end the call manually.

Notification continuity camera
If an important notification arrives on iPhone during a call with pass-through camera enabled, Mac will display it. // Source: Conquer Numerama

Continuity Camera offers everything from an extremely simple solution that will indeed simplify the lives of thousands of users. We can’t wait for it to hit the market, even if we doubt that the majority of users will buy Apple’s small accessory.

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