In this week’s WWDC keynote, Apple introduced a new feature in iOS 16 that will delight people, including older MacBooks. It’s called the Continuum Camera and it lets you use your iPhone as a stand-in webcam. The pitch is that it combines the “best camera you own” with a laptop’s large display. Theoretically, this sounds like the perfect pairing. Apple also says it will allow things that have never been possible before with a webcam, and that’s actually true here. This is a big deal since even newer Macs have notoriously weak webcams
In the keynote address, Craig Federighi demonstrated the technology by attaching a magnetic clip to his iPhone 13 Pro. This allows the phone to hang on the back of the 13 ″ MacBook Pro lid. He then opened FaceTime and immediately started using the camera on the back of the phone as a webcam without the need to unlock fifteen.
The first feature to be shown is the center stage. It lets you walk around your workplace and the camera follows you. You can only move a few feet on either side, but this is a technology we’ve seen before on iPads and studio displays. It requires a wide-angle camera, which is why it has not yet appeared on the MacBook line.
The next part of the demo shows how people can use the features of the iPhone camera system for webcam responsibilities. For example, you can use Portrait mode in FaceTime to blur the background, which is not possible with Basic Apple Webcam. On top of that you can enable different portrait mode presets for different types of lighting. Demo Studio Lights, for example, illuminates the presenter’s face and darkens the background. This will be useful for people who have a backlit work area with a window at the back.
Next they reasonably show the most interesting feature: the desk view. It sounds just like that, and it lets you see the desk area of the presenter. The feature uses an ultra-wide angle lens on the iPhone with some image processing. While this certainly looks great, we’re having trouble figuring out when or why we need to show our keyboard in a FaceTime call. The presenter says he will use it to show his team what he’s doing, but they’re probably working differently at Apple. The demo shows that it is easy for card tricks.
Craig concludes by saying that Continuum Camera works with any video conferencing app supported on MacOS. This includes Zoom and the Microsoft team. Apple is working with Belkin on adapters and will have different styles. However, the two adapters shown were clearly connected via MagSafe. Only the iPhone 12 and 13 use MagSafe, so it’s not clear if there will be a non-magnetic stand for older phones. Continuation camera ship with iOS 16, which will debut after the iPhone 14 arrives “later this year”. This usually means September, but you can join the public beta to try it out ahead of time. We will insert a general warning note about using beta software on your daily driver device. The public version beta should come soon, as the current beta is only for Apple developers.