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 send the camera on your iPhone to a webcam, to use it in applications dedicated to video calls.

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

To solve this problem, during its WWDC conference on June 6, 2022, Apple made the amazing effort of “continuity” between its devices. Instead of drastically increasing the quality of the webcam on their new Macs (the very average camera on the latest MacBook Air M2 testifies to this), 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. What is it worth? We tried the Continuity Camera first.

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

⚠️ A test run with beta versions

First of all, 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 that Apple will keep the Continuity Camera at the launch of its new operating systems, or that its operation will not evolve with the final version.
  • To operate Continuity Camera, you only need an iPhone and a Mac. No accessories are required and the feature works in Wi-Fi (you must be connected to the same Apple account). But to use the 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 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, will probably break in a few days, but in the meantime it does the job. Please note that the MagSafe cable to hold the iPhone is not included.
No need for a support to run Continuity Camera, you can place your iPhone anywhere. // Source: Numerama

A very simple feature to activate

The activation of the Continuity Camera 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
iPhone is recognized as a lambda web camera. In the Control Center, you can enable settings specific to Apple. // Source: Numerama screenshots

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

On the iPhone screen, two functions are offered while using Continuity Camera: “Pause” and “Stop”. The first allows you to do something else and freezes the webcam for a few seconds, the second disables the webcam completely and above all prevents it from being reactivated afterwards. To pair the iPhone and Mac again, it must be connected with a cable. Restrictive but practical to prevent someone with bad intentions from discreetly spying on you. Only the first connection is made automatically.

An option not easily found in any software

On paper, Apple is supposed 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 is not designed to leave the choice of camera to the user, which makes the activation of Continuity Camera complicated. For example, Google Chrome, which you have to go through to start a Google Meet call, doesn’t recognize the iPhone by default. Manually selecting the option from the Meet settings works. On the other hand, Zoom or Messenger, they make it easy to choose 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, right, it looks like a normal webcam. // Source: Numerama screenshots

Visible quality gain

Continuity camera has two obvious interests:

  • Improve the quality of your built-in webcam while getting smart features like center bezel.
  • Adding a webcam to a device that doesn’t have one, such as an external monitor (this is the case of the Huawei MateView from the author of this article, who can’t wait to be able to hang his iPhone on the back of the screen to send video calls , while looking in front of the camera).

The question then arises: is the quality really better? Oddly enough, we are far from “high definition”. If the picture is still a bit blurry (albeit better than the MacBook Air’s), it is especially in relation to colors that we undeniably win in quality. The image of the MacBook Air is bland, that of the iPhone is quite rich. In low light 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 second feature that Apple has proposed is called “Desk View”. What does it correspond to? It’s a bit like an algorithmic magic trick. Using the iPhone’s ultra-wide-angle module, the Mac manages to see what’s in front of it, flips the image, distorts it slightly, and then gives the impression of having placed a camera directly above it. over the user’s desk, like a mini-drone. This allows you to share with your family (or your students for example) the view of your notebook or your phone, to perform a demonstration with good quality. The end goal is to allow you to broadcast both your head and desktop view for professional demonstrations.

desktop view
The desktop view uses ultra-wide angle to give the illusion of being above your desktop. // Source: Numerama

The office mode was the feature that intrigued us the most with Continuity Camera, it’s finally the one that disappoints us the most. Why ? Simply because it only works if the angle is perfect. If the stand and screen aren’t quite at the right angle, then 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 Continuity Camera test, what happens if someone calls us? We were afraid that the iPhone would vibrate, fall and break (#paranoia). Fortunately, Apple thought of that.

In Continuity Camera mode, the iPhone doesn’t vibrate and its notifications appear on the Mac. If the call seems important to you, it is up to you to end the call manually.

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

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 a majority of users will buy the little accessory from Apple.

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