It was easy to laugh yesterday when Apple revealed that you’ll soon be able to stick an iPhone to the back of your Mac to get a better webcam. Some joked that Apple design legend Jony Ive was go cry somewhere. Others wondered if it really was the best Apple could offer after years of grainy MacBook images and how the Apple Studio Display’s camera fell short.
But today, Apple software engineer Karen Xing spent some time explaining how the new Continuity Camera feature for macOS Ventura will actually work at WWDC 2022 – and it looks seriously impressive. It could turn your iPhone into a full-fledged Mac camera that does almost everything you expect and more.
If you don’t want to watch a 20 minute presentation, here’s the TL; DR:
macOS will detect your iPhone as camera and microphone, period, so all the camera app should work. While Apple only showed FaceTime and mentioned Zoom, Teams, and Webex during the WWDC 2022 grand opening keynote, developers wouldn’t have to do anything to their apps to make them work.
You also get Portrait Mode, “Studio Light” and Center Stage options regardless of the application. They’re in a drop-down menu in Control Center, next to your iPhone’s battery.
You can turn your iPhone to any orientation, and it will still work. You get a zoom effect if your iPhone is in portrait orientation. Here’s a quick and dirty image slider of the difference:
FaceTime isn’t the only app that will “magically” switch to your iPhone when you drop it. Xing has demonstrated this with Zoom, and Apple offers an automatic camera selection API that other apps can also use. macOS Ventura will automatically switch to your iPhone if it’s mounted on a stand and either plugged in via USB or detected as “nearby” via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
It works wired – not just wireless. USB cables are fine if you’re worried about interference or if your iPhone stays charged.
Apps can also allow your Mac to capture photos and videos from your iPhone. Plus, it can optionally pass face detection and body detection “metadata,” which sounds a little intriguing and a little scary at the same time. Captures maxed out at 1920 x 1440 and 60fps.
There is also an API for Apple’s Desk View nifty mode. Apple has found a way to fold and crop images from the iPhone’s super ultra wide lens to let you show things off your desk surface without moving your phone. It’s also available for app developers, and Xing showed it off as a way to present in Zoom:
Application developers can also capture video at 30 fps, 1920 x 1440 resolutions from Desk View.
(You can see a better Desk View demo at 1:40 In this video.)
Unfortunately, none of this works with those old iPhones you’ve been sitting in a drawer. Continuity Camera requires iOS 16 in addition to macOS 13, Xing has revealed – and unfortunately the first-generation iPhone 6S, 7 and iPhone SE and earlier won’t get the iOS 16 software update. It’s a shame because it feels like it could be a great way to use up an older phone that has no resale value. Still, there are other ways to turn an old spare phone into a webcam.