New iPad's VGA front camera and Apple's history of holding back from perfection

New iPad's VGA front camera and Apple's history of holding back from perfection

Summary: I can't wait to see the display on my new iPad, but am a bit disappointed that the front facing camera is only VGA quality. Will there always be just one more thing missing from new mobile products?


I'm excited to finally see the display on my new Verizon LTE iPad tomorrow, but as I look at the reviews that went live last night and think more about the new iPad I can't help but notice Apple, and many other manufacturers, always seem to leave out one or two things that could have made the device near perfect. I'm not talking about technology and features that are futuristic, but functions and hardware that is available today on other devices. Android smartphone manufacturers do a better job of including the latest technology, but many offer incremental updates (slight increase in camera resolution, bump up in processor speed) every couple of months and flood the market with device models that confuse the consumer.

I have never used my iPad 2s rear camera, but I do use the front one for Skype and FaceTime so I am confused why Apple thought they had to significantly improve the back camera while leaving the front facing camera a simple VGA model. Most Android devices have 1.3 megapixel or higher front facing cameras and the BlackBerry PlayBook has an excellent 3 megapixel model that results in very high quality video chat sessions through their application and service. I would like to have seen Apple launch this new iPad with a 2 megapixel or higher front facing camera, wouldn't you?

Looking back through the recent history of Apple's iPhone and iPad products, here is my take on holdbacks made when the technology was readily available at the time of the launches. Keep in mind for the average consumer these are minor issues, but there always seems to be something where Apple could have stepped up and given us "one more thing." These same kind of issues were present in the iPod history.

  • Original iPhone: No 3G when it was readily available on other phones
  • iPhone 3G: 412 MHz processor, 2 megapixel camera, no voice control
  • iPhone 3GS: 3 megapixel camera with VGA video
  • iPhone 4: VGA front facing camera limited to WiFi only FaceTime use
  • iPhone 4S: No 4G LTE or fast HSPA+ (limited to just 14.4 Mbps speeds) and no increase in screen size.

  • Original iPad: No cameras, 256 MB RAM
  • iPad 2: Same 1024 × 768 resolution display, VGA FFC, lame rear camera
  • New iPad (iPad 3): Limited VGA FFC

I have several Apple products, an iPhone 4S, iPad, couple of MacBook Pros, and find the hardware and user experience to be excellent. Apple innovates on things like display quality and the user experience. Apple computers and devices have been in my life since 1989 and I will continue to buy them in the future. I think my 2009 MacBook Pro was near perfect at launch and there is nothing I wanted more in the device at the time. However, I sure would like to have an iPad or iPhone that didn't have me wishing Apple would have gone just a bit further and offered a complete product.

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Topics: Apple, Hardware, iPhone, iPad, Mobility

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  • Nice article. Not to be a grammar cop, but well...

    Would have "gone"...

    Would have "went" is like saying would have "ate". ;-)
    • would'a

      Everyone knows it's "would'a et."

      as in: "I would'a et the possum if I coulda been sure it hadn't been lyin' on the road fer mor'n a day or two."
      • Ah reckon yo're right. :-D

  • If they gave you everything you needed

    there would be no reason to buy the next version. This is how a gimmick works.
    • Nex version

      I agree when the iPad 2 came out they could have added retina and this other stuff they did with the new does it every year they add little increments to their product,so the consumer will buy.That's the reason they will never put an sd card slot on the iPad.They want to force you to buy the 32 or 64.Well if you want to spend your money more power to you.
  • Nikon D800 Launched Finally - the 36 Megapixel Monster!

    You will definitely love to know the features of Nikon D800. Go through a neat review of the new baby here
  • wait...

    Apple innovate on screen quality?

    It's not even their screen... They buy them...
  • You forgot...

    that the first iPhone also didn't have a front facing camera for video telephony - something most dumb and feature phones have had since 2001. Even the 3G, when it came, still didn't get it - in fact even the 4S today cannot use standard 3G video telephony.

    That said, Android also never got this ability and Microsoft dropped the capability, when they swapped from Windows Mobile 6.5 to Windows Phone 7.

    In practice, I can't remember the last time I used the front facing camera on my phone, probably on my old Nokia, back in 2002, just to try it out.

    To be honest, I'd be happy for a tablet and smartphone without cameras, front or rear. At least then, I could take them on-site with me, when I visit customers - most have a no camera equipment policy, which means either leaving the phone in the car or handing it over to security for "safe keeping".
    • 2001?

      I guess you meant 2001: A Space Odyssey, because I don't recall ANY real-world phone, at least any phone that was readily available at the time for less than $300 with a contract, that had a rear facing camera, much less a front facing one for "standard video telephony". When I bought a Motorola flip phone in 2002, I got a camera dongle for it several months later- that was something I never used, because the dongle was rather clunky.

      In 2005 when I got a replacement flip phone, it had an integrated camera- but it only faced the front when closed (as in, the phone was off). But perhaps this is what you meant, "front-facing" as in the camera is on the front of the case when you're not using the phone, but on the rear when you have it open to snap a picture.

      But you're right, the old flip phones were so clunky and terrible in taking pictures (and hard to get pictures off of), that I rarely used them to do so, relying on a digital camera when I wanted to take pictures (which wasn't very often). It wasn't until I got my first iPhone, a 3GS, that I put my digital camera away in a drawer. And it changed the way I took pictures, as in now I take lots of pictures in many situations simply because I have my phone handy to take them. So when the 4S came out and my contract had run its course, I grabbed one the first week, because its 8-megapixel camera meant that I could take lots of very high quality photos of my infant son wherever the possibility struck me.
  • Agree

    It's like Jobs said himself, you have to make your own products extinct with the new, and do it often. If they made the perfect product, which they could, they would have a harder time making you buy a new product every year. They are a hardware company after all. I myself was hoping for a 8mg pixel camera on the back side at least, since it has all that cool photo editing software you can get. I'm probably going to wait a year for the next one.
  • They can't give you everything

    the idea behind this business is incremental updates. It is how Apple creates a "must have" update every two years. That ensures that people are willing to buy it, with some people buying each of them. This, of course, came from the phone market.
    Michael Alan Goff
  • Might be a minor technical reason...

    I wonder if the choice of including the low-res front-facing camera is due to bandwidth concerns with FaceTime.

    As it currently stands, FaceTime works well with the current camera resolution and bit rate - images look good enough, and there's not much delay/dropout. A higher resolution camera could significantly impact the bandwidth used when videoconferencing - more bits = more traffic = probably more delay/dropout.

    Admitted, any good webcam and good webcam software should have the option of specifying a resolution. Surely the FaceTime team could hardcode a low-res setting when using that software, while allowing the user to take hi-res glamour shots in other applications.
  • re: holding back from "perfection"

    What exactly is "perfection"? What is perfect to one person may not be to another. Just because Apple doesn't meet the specifications YOU would have used, they're not perfect. My opinion is:
    1) Perfect doesn't exist, anyway. I've never seen a product or a person in my life that met my definition of "perfect".
    2) There's usually what they consider a good reason for every decision that they make. In the end, it generally comes down to a) money, and b) demand. In this case, I'm willing to bet that they found there's not enough demand for a higher-resolution front-facing camera to justify the added expense of incorporating a different camera. They were trying to make the best improvements without raising the cost (and thereby the price). Why would I need a higher-res picture of my face to talk to someone? As long as they can see me, and my features, while we're talking - what more is needed?

    If there's really that great a demand for it, you can be sure that they will eventually incorporate it into their device. It might not be on your timetable, though... but you are welcome to purchase a competing product that does have the hardware features that you desire.
  • Great

    Yeah, just order the new ipad case here, can't wait to get it..