In a move that almost no one saw coming, Apple unveiled a new feature that will debut in macOS Ventura. It’s called Continuity Camera. It lets you use your iPhone as a webcam on video conference calls.
It’s a brilliant idea. The iPhone has some fantastic cameras that will always be better than a built-in webcam, but this new feature has an obvious PR problem. Is Apple finally admitting that its webcams are subpar?
Here’s what you need to know.
How to Use Continuity Camera on a Mac
Before you get started, there are a few things you need to know. First, Continuity Camera requires macOS Ventura (macOS 13) on your Mac and iOS 16 on an iPhone 11 or later. If you don’t have both of those, you won’t be able to use your iPhone as a webcam.
Another thing to note is that, like all of Apple’s Continuity features, you need to ensure that your iPhone and your Mac are both signed in to the same iCloud account and have two-factor authentication enabled. They also need Bluetooth and W-Fi turned on.
With that taken care of, the rest just works like magic. Your Mac will automatically recognize when your iPhone is nearby. You don’t need to wake it up or even unlock it. It just connects to your Mac automatically. All you need to do is open your favorite video conferencing app and choose your iPhone as your camera device.
If you want to physically attach the iPhone to the back of your Mac so that it sits at the same height as your built-in webcam, Belkin (and others) make a MagSafe mount that will clip onto the back of your laptop. This ensures that your iPhone is at least at a decent viewing angle.
Continuity Camera works with FaceTime, Zoom, Teams, Webex, and other popular video conferencing apps. It can also take advantage of iPhone camera features like Center Stage, Portrait mode, and the new Studio Light mode on iPhone 12 or later.
Best of all, these features will be available to any Mac capable of running macOS Ventura. That means anything from 2017 or later.
So, is Apple Giving Up on Webcams?
At this point, it is probably best to address Apple’s PR problem.
A more cynical person would say that Apple created the Continuity Camera feature because the webcams on their computers just aren’t good enough.
Unfortunately, there is plenty of smoke for that fire.
For instance, when Apple launched the M1 MacBook Air in 2020, The Wall Street Journal put it up against a selection of other laptop webcams. They tested them in good light, bad light, and even backlight. The verdict? None of the laptops did very well. In fact, an iPhone was the clear winner.
More recently, when Apple launched its brand new Studio Display, the initial reviews often had an asterisk next to them. Reviewers liked the monitor, but almost none of them had good things to say about the webcam.
This prompted Apple to release a software update to address these issues. As you can see below, the jury is still out on whether that update improved things.
Of course, webcam problems are not just an Apple problem. All kinds of laptop manufacturers (Dell, Lenovo, HP, and more) are guilty of subpar webcam image quality. It’s an industry-wide trend, and even the very best are just okay.
Apple’s Silver Lining
However, this is only part of the story. Whether you decide to use the built-in webcam on your Mac or not, one of the best features of Continuity Camera is something called Desk View.
This new camera mode uses the wide-angle camera on an iPhone to pair a side-by-side view of your face with an overhead view of your desk. Apple says it is excellent for creating DIY videos and showing off sketches over FaceTime.
I think it would be great for teachers in virtual classrooms or for playing games with friends. In a pinch, YouTubers could even use Desk View for product reviews or unboxing videos. How cool is that?
An Unfinished Story
Apple will probably never tell us why they don’t put a stellar webcam in all of their computers. Maybe it’s too expensive. Maybe there is not enough room in the case. Nobody knows for sure.
However, we do know that Apple knows can make good cameras. They make them every year for the iPhone, and they get a little bit better every year.
If an iPhone photo were the same quality as the webcam image on your Mac, the sales of the iPhone would plummet. Thankfully, this is not the case. So until Apple figures out how to translate that quality to their computers, Continuity Camera might just be the bridge we have all been looking for.