About that 2-megapixel camera and iChat in iPhone 3G…

By SteveJack

Some people are complaining that Apple kept the same iPhone camera with its 2.0 megapixels in their new iPhone 3G.

To those people, I say: If you want to take better pictures, use a real camera.

That camera on the iPhone is for quick and dirty shots, mostly meant to be emailed as part of the communication process. For example, an architect snaps a shot for a contractor to not just tell him, but show him that his crew needs to learn how to frame a house. Or a parent grabs a quick shot of their kid playing soccer to dash off to grandma. That camera in iPhone 3G isn’t for the aspiring Ansel Adams framing their perfect shot of Grand Teton.

Apple correctly has given users enough to get the job done while not bogging down networks unnecessarily with 5+ megapixel shots of Sally running around in shin guards.

Ditto for the whole “iChat AV-yay-we’re-finally-gonna-have-video-phones!” idea. The network capacities are finite, people. Not infinite. I’d wager that Apple understands perfectly that if they put a front-facing camera and and iChat AV app on an iPhone, then they’d have a video phone. I’d also wager that they didn’t bother to even discuss it with the carriers, since they didn’t want to hear where to put their “video phone.”

The networks can’t handle millions of people making video calls along with all of the regular voice and other traffic, including all of that extra data bandwidth that iPhone users already use surfing. And, starting on July 11th, surfing on the iPhone 3G will only increase as it becomes so much faster.

So, let’s recap: Apple’s iPhone 3G camera isn’t overkill for the sake of looking good on a specs sheet, while negatively affecting network performance. iPhone 3G’s camera is the proper one for the average job for which it is intended to be used. If you want to be a photographer, get a real camera. Also, Apple didn’t fail to grasp anything. They understand perfectly well that a video phone is possible, but that millions of them in action isn’t a feasible idea, yet.

People who complain about the number of megapixels in iPhone 3G’s camera and/or wonder why Apple didn’t put a front-facing camera on the iPhone for video chatting simply aren’t seeing the whole picture.

SteveJack is a long-time Macintosh user, web designer, multimedia producer and a regular contributor to the MacDailyNews Opinion section.


  1. Although I largely agree with the content of this story, I find amusing how Apple fanatics (including myself) are always quick to find excuses for missing features.
    If other phones had crappy camera and the iPhone was the only one with a good camera we would be trumpeting this on every web site.
    3G has been available for a while outside the US and operators have tried to get people to use their video phones. Video communications are now the same price as voice on most network in europe.
    I think it is a good technology demonstration, but no one wants to do a video conversation in Public as people around can hear both side of the conversation.

  2. I find that when I am perfectly still, and there is plenty of light, the pictures are pretty good. As long as I can see the directions of wires in a piece of equipment I am working on, so that I can email for support, I am happy.

    The 2 megapixel limit probably makes it easier to attach pictures for emailing, and also for storage (since there is no external storage…)

    Now, about no video capture……

  3. simple, first the networks are just not that robust yet to support video calls, second…they have to have something in the works for you to upgrade to in the next revisions, it’s coming, just not yet.

    I’d support a better camera in a heartbeat tho, full lighting it’s not to bad, low light is hell with the iPhone camera however 🙁

  4. 2 megapixels is about as much as that tiny lens can resolve anyway (probably even overkill). You don’t increase quality by adding megapixels, especially if the light gathering device is about the size of a pinprick.

    It’s ironic that people want smaller, thinner and lighter but they also want DSLR quality. That’s just not going to happen unless someone defies the laws of physics.. or Apple makes the light-gathering device a lot bigger. Then, we can increase sensor resolution/size.

  5. @ Philippe
    “Video communications are now the same price as voice on most network in europe. “
    I know you know this, but I’m going to clarify; Jack is talking here about the bandwidth capacity, not the price.

    ” but no one wants to do a video conversation in Public as people around can hear both side of the conversation.”
    I don’t know why anyone thinks I should hear ONE side of their conversation. Man, I hate public cell phone users. I think talking on a cell phone in public should be considered as socially inappropriate as dropping one’s pants and squatting to defecate on the sidewalk.
    Take it where no-one can hear you, people!

  6. I really wish they had upgraded the camera. Not so much for my personal use, as the existing camera is usually good enough. My concern is as a stockholder. I believe the phone will sell very well in the rest of the world, but I think the camera quality will cause many people not to buy. I only say that because I’ve read many times how important the camera is to people in other parts of the world. Since I don’t live in Europe, when a European tells me a good cell camera is important, I have to believe him. And of course I mean a good cell camera compared to what THEY are used to, not what I’M used to. I expect this issue to be addressed with the third iPhone next year though, as we all saw that job listing Apple had a while back.

  7. I like Apple’s stand against the megapixel myth. For a small camera, after a point, the greater the megapixels, the worse the picture (like telescopes & binocs, greater mag’n = worse image after the limitations of the optics are reached). Bottom line: Get a real camera.

    The GPS feature, on the other hand, is aces. Garmin et al have been fleecing consumers for far too long. They are about to get what they deserve.

  8. I’ll probably get an iphone in a bit but my friend has some small nokia N series phone and it takes great video shots while walking around which the downloads to his computer, edits and then uploads to youtube. The quality is VGA but it works well and more importantly he was able to take the shot since your phone goes everywhere with you. That’s where I see a nice camera on the iphone really being invaluable. Look at the success of the Flip which is just a simple, small, easy to use video camera that takes crappy footage but is always with you

  9. I don’t agree with Phllippe.

    Have seen the size of the phones with those hi mega pixel cameras? I like my iphone nice and thin thank you. I don’t want to carry more weight with a bigger camera that I don’t need.

    Plus 3G video chat is over rated. I live in Hong Kong and 3g video chat has been around for years. I have many friends with 3g and video chat capability, but I have never seen anyone use that video chat function in all years its been on the market. Only once when they demoed it at the store and on advertisements, but those don’t count. The tech is just not there even in Asia to be practicable. The user experience is terrible and nobody uses it. Video chat is not ready for market. Maybe in 5 years.

    I agree with Jack on this one.

  10. As I said yesterday, I am disappointed on how little of a leap Apple made in its next gen iPhone, but I will buy one anyway.
    I am waiting for OtterBox to update their cases too: they make the most rugged iPod and iPhone cases on the planet in my never humble opinion.
    I suppose I will have to live with my iPhone purchase for four to five years when Apple really comes out with something truly spectacular.

  11. If the Nokia N95 can have a 5 MP camera, I don’t see why the iPhone can’t. Bogging down the networks? I honestly don’t believe that a better camera would bog down the network.

    I can see, however, that video calling could do this. However, as people are quick to point out, many European phones can do this, so the technology is definitely feasible. The counter point to that would be that iPhone would likely do for video calling what it did for mobile Internet–Previous devices have had these capabilities, but many people don’t utilize them on other devices, as they are not as easy to use.

  12. Rubbish. Europe is full with 3G video phones and that was never a problem. Sure, Apple would make finally USABLE and thus create even more data load, but still, it’s totally not the case. And about back camera – it’s shit, no more, no less. And again – I think we WILL one day have usable images with our phones. Why the hell I’d care for geo-tagged photos, when they are no good for anything? Megapixels actually don’t matter. Smaller resolutions for phone cameras are even good, but the quality has to be better.
    So. All this comes to only one simple explanation – updage path for iPhone v3. That’s it.

  13. Well, to expand on your take, Stevejack, I will submit that Steve Jobs knows exactly what he is doing and has no intention of adding a feature to a product until or unless it can meet his exacting standards.

    We all already know that Video Conferencing over Wi-Fi seldom looks anywhere near as clean as it does in the demos from the Moscone. Most people don’t have 3-5 mbps download AND upload, and the quality of video chats can often struggle depending on the available bandwidth.

    3G has an even tighter bandwidth cap, and as a result Video Chatting would look bloody awful. If they had included the feature, they certainly could have made a compelling demo out of at the Keynote yesterday; but as soon as the phone went public, the reality would set in, and everyone from the tech press to the forum trolls would pounce on Apple like a rabid monkey.

    Perhaps once 4G networks are in place, Video phones will be plausible, but not a moment before.

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