iOS 16 Will Let You Use Your iPhone as a Webcam

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At this week’s WWDC keynote Apple showed off a new feature in iOS 16 that’s sure to please people with older MacBooks. It’s called Continuity 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 the larger display of a laptop. Theoretically, it does sound like the perfect pairing. Apple also says it will allow things that were never before possible with a webcam, and it’s actually telling the truth here. This is a big deal since even newer Macs have notoriously lackluster webcams.

In the keynote Craig Federighi demonstrated the technology by attaching a magnetic clip to his iPhone 13 Pro. This allowed the phone to hang off the back of the lid on the 13″ MacBook Pro he was using. Next he opened FaceTime and it instantly began using the rear camera on the phone as the webcam without needing to unlock the pone.

The first feature to be shown was Center Stage. This lets you walk around your work area and the camera follows you. You can only move a few feet in either direction, but it’s a technology we’ve seen before on the iPad and Studio Display. It requires a wide-angle camera, which is why it hasn’t shown up on the MacBook line yet.

The next part of the demo showed how people can harness the features of the iPhone camera system for webcam duties. For example, you can use Portrait mode in FaceTime to blur the background, which is not possible with the basic Apple webcam. On top of that you can enable various portrait mode presets for different types of lighting. As an example the demo showed Studio Light, which brightened the presenter’s face and darkened the background. This will be useful for people who have backlit work areas with a window behind them.

Next they showed arguably the most interesting feature: Desk View. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it lets you see the presenter’s desk area. The feature uses the ultra-wide angle lens on the iPhone along with some image processing. Although this certainly looks cool, we’re having trouble figuring out when or why we’d need to show our keyboard on a FaceTime call. The presenter says he’d use it to show his team what he’s working on, but maybe they work differently at Apple. As the demo shows it is handy for card tricks though.

Craig ended the presentation by saying Continuity Camera works with any videoconferencing app that is supported on MacOS. This includes Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Apple is working with Belkin on the adapters, and there will be several different styles. However, both of the adapters shown were clearly attached via MagSafe. Only the iPhone 12 and 13 use MagSafe, so it’s unclear if there will be non-magnetic stands for older phones. Continuity Camera ships with iOS 16, which will debut when the iPhone 14 arrives “later this year.” That usually means September, but you can also join the public beta to try it out ahead of time. We’ll insert the usual cautionary note here about using beta software on your daily driver devices. The public version beta should arrive soon, as the current beta is only for Apple developers.

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