The Unexpected Uses of the iPad 2’s Rear Camera

| Analysis

Some people believe that there is little to be gained by having a rear facing camera in an iPad. It could be, however, that the mental picture of awkwardly holding up an iPad to take a shot, in contrast to an iPhone or a point-and-shoot camera, has us unduly crippled. In fact, there may be unanticipated benefits to having a rear facing camera, not only for now but for the future.

While the idea of a front facing camera makes a lot of sense for FaceTime, many have had a hard time visualizing how to exploit the rear facing camera of an iPad. Here are just a few of the applications I’ve run across or thought of recently, and I’m sure I haven’t thought of everything.

HDTV Screen Shot. When my wife is watching a TV show that I’m not a big fan of (Mentalist, Fairly Legal), or we’re just watching news, I’ll sit next to her with my iPad in lap, time sharing, looking for interesting tech stories. Occasionally, there will be something on the TV screen that I need a screen shot of: a news item, a phone number, a URL, a new Apple TV ad … or something like that. If I had a rear facing camera in my iPad 1, it would be easy to hit the pause button on the DVR and take that photo.

Documenting Aerial & Oceanic Phenomenon. I have read that more and more civilian pilots want to ditch their heavy paper manuals and maps and put everything they need on an iPad. The FAA hasn’t approved this universally for commercial jet pilots, but private pilots are leading the way, and using kneeboards. Soon the skies will be full of video cameras held by trained observers, and that’s good for instant documentation of events that are ephemeral, typically lost to us forever: near misses, astronomical events, meteors, cloud phenomena, and so on. (Hey, all you UFOs! Show me your hull markings, and I’ll show you a pilot with an iPad and camera at hand.)

Lightening

Medical Applications. I was undergoing some medical treatment recently, and when the doctor walked into the room, her first remark was, “John, you look better in person that you do on paper.” (It was a friendly remark.) Later, she noticed the iPhone in my hand, and asked if I had thought to document my situation as a souvenir. It started me thinking about how little use the medical profession makes of routine (visual) photography. Of course, an off-the-cuff shot with a doctor’s personal smartphone would be perhaps rude and hard to integrate into the medical records, but if my official medical records are accessed with an iPad, why not take a quick photo to document progress — and keep for future reference?

Hospital

Hotel Management. I have read that some hotels are equipping the concierge and or staff with an iPad to assist with the check-in process or other assistance to hotel guests. How many times a year does a guest lock him or herself out of the room (where the wallet or purse is) and have to struggle at the front desk to identify themselves? A quick photo at check in would solve that problem. And if you’re provided with your own iPad at check in to order from the menu or take a virtual tour, why not encourage the guest to take photos of their food and experience and tweet them?

Real Estate. Every real estate agent wants to take photos of their properties, have a library of shots, and provide tehem to prospective customers. A smart phone would work for taking the photos, but wouldn’t be so great for actually showing the images to the customer while driving around. A one stop real estate app, with access to the camera, to do all this makes sense on a 10 inch tablet.

Insurance Adjustors. I would guess that an insurance adjustor would rather work on a full-size tablet to fill out a claim form on the spot. Again, one could shoot photos of the damage with a phone, but getting the pictures properly documented in integrated into the claim wouldn’t be as easy as just using the iPad’s rear camera. The claim form itself would instantly document the photo — as well as capture the geo coordinates.

Science & Education. Holding up a phone to record an instructor’s presentation would be tedious. But an adjustable prism over the lens of a propped up iPad would make it a lot easier to record a lecture. The same goes for documenting lab experiments. (“Here’s my cute lab mouse, Algernon, in action!”) Every scientist using an iPad will want to document something or other with the camera.

Professor

Jeff Gamet added another idea to the list this morning: warehouse inventory, scanning bar codes, etc. The list really does go on and on.

In short, while we’re hard pressed to see ourselves casually using the iPad 2’s rear facing camera to take tourist or family photos, in just about any technical profession where an iPad is use, there would be an opportunity to use the rear facing camera in still or video mode. It could simply be that Apple left the cameras off the original iPad because it couldn’t acquire the kinds of camera components needed in the quantity projected at the cost they wanted to pay. I’d rather believe that than a failure of vision, to wit: no right thinking person would ever need cameras in a tablet. But who knows? I do know this, however. Customers always find interesting things to do with their products, and one should never try to exclude the possibility of serendipity.

Regrettably, about 20 million iPad 1s have already been sold without a camera of any kind. But soon, by 2012, they’ll all be at the bottom of a sock drawer collecting lint as we switch to the iPad 2 and 3. Have you already found interesting things to do with your iPad 2’s rear facing camera? Let me know.

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16 Comments Leave Your Own

cb50dc

I?d rather believe that than a failure of vision, to wit: no right thinking person would ever need cameras in a tablet. But who knows?... one should never try to exclude the possibility of serendipity.

You’re wise to leave that open. A similar question may sound familiar: “Why would anyone want to watch video on an iPod?” wink

mhikl

I don’t think an iPad will be at the bottom of anyone’s sock drawer unless it is being kept for posterity as an addition to a personal museum. These things will be passed along or sold to help purchase one’s next iPad. However, I could see the eXoom and other wannabes become fly swatters.

However, regarding the rear camera, I have been a little (tiny amount) taken with the eXoom adverts where the picture or movie of a toddler is being taken and I wonder if the large screen might not be such a bad idea.

The tiny view finders of the past, once adapted too, seemed very easy to use and to line up a snap or good photo. The little screens were not so easy but over time became quite useful as one’s handling skills improved.

I don’t have an iPad but I think it might just take some transition period and skill learning to be quite viable for home movies and family photo shots.

If so, we could come to expect superior cameras in our iPads.

webjprgm

For half of John’s ideas the iPad 2 camera is probably too low quality.  E.g. the real estate agent could snap a photo which would look fine as long as the client was not allowed to pinch-to-zoom the picture trying to get a closer look.  Photos for medical records would not be high enough quality to use for analysis, just for loose visual records.  The hotel customer or bar code scanner would work pretty well though.

I agree about the mental image of holding up an iPad.  That was exactly my thought, leading me to conclude that I only needed the front-facing camera.  That bar code scanner idea is what tipped the scales for me.

Dorje Syals

“The best camera is the one that you have in your hand.”

People who don’t see a need for a camera on the iPad clearly do not have it in hand as their primary device. I am not an iPhone user and my iPod is one generation behind cameras. The only ‘portable’ camera I have is the 1.3 MP one on my phone, which thanks to carrier lock-in, is not the easiest to quickly pull pictures off of.

I agree 100% that the camera in an iPad or other tablets is not a “casual” use cam like my phone or even a real camera. As someone who pushes paper, inventory, and documentation having a rear facing camera that is also directly feeding into my ‘PADD’ is invaluable. It’s primary use is quick visual reference work, adding photos of people/objects/conditions to documentation on the fly.

I’m not digging around in my pocket for another device when I can far more quickly, if overtly, hold my iPad up and snap the same photo. Not only that I then have to attach/link/sync the secondary pocket cam to my iPad so it will actually be useful later. Too many steps, too much time for too little benefit.

My “in short”. What is in you hands/at-fingers right now? iPhone? iPod? Laptop? Desktop? iPad? Ask that every hour for a day. If the majority of the time is one device then you want a camera on it. For some of us that will-be/is the iPad. We see reasons to have a camera on it.

Lee Dronick

Surreptitious taking of photographs and video. There is no green light when taking video using the rear camera, no sound. There is a click when taking a photograph, but if you put a jack in the audio out then the external speaker is muted. I am not condoning the behavior nor do I engage in it, I am just saying that it is possible.

paikinho

I like the idea of videoing college lectures. I did that back in the 90’s for my embryology & histology classes. For each test we would have a big party where everyone would come over for beer pizza and popcorn and back-fill the giant holes in all of our notes and study the images again.

Everyone who did was able to to much much better on their exams since both of these areas of study rely heavily on recognition of complex cellular structures. Plus it was just fun to get together and work as a group.

Mikhail

Not everyone can afford an iPhone AND an iPad.
So if you want to use some of the great Apps in Store that make use of the Camera (like the Amazon app) it is nice to have one in your iPad.

geoduck

FWIW I can’t make out anything the professor is writing on the blackboard. Might be his writing and might be because you shrunk the picture for the article, might not even be an iPad2 picture. Don’t know but, just saying….

iphonzie

I’ve actually been an advocate for a high quality back camera in the iPad, preferably one with an internal optical zoom. While holding a pie plate in front of your face at a toddler’s birthday party would be odd, other situations where you really want to create a good composition would benefit greatly from the large display. For both DSLR’s and point-and-shoots, the size of the LCD is a marketing point - the iPad would clearly win on that spec. I can picture a monstrosity of a tripod mount, and perhaps a hood to shade the screen.

akcarver

You?re wise to leave that open. A similar question may sound familiar: ?Why would anyone want to watch video on an iPod??

Or even better, “We see a worldwide market for 5 computers” - IBM, in the 1940s and 1950s.

paikinho

During my lecture videoing I was using a Sony 8mm with 560?480 resolution in today’s digital terms.

Nobody had trouble reading the blackboard or the slides put up with full flourescent lighting. It wasn’t pretty, but we could see it all pretty well when we played it back on the oldschool 480 verticle line TV.

What is the functional resolution of the iPad?

Lee Dronick

other situations where you really want to create a good composition would benefit greatly from the large display.

With an app that puts a golden rectangle/ratio grid on the screen.

I have a Canon Rebel T1i digital camera. It comes with software that lets me control it remotely via USB, the big “viewfinder” on my iMac or MacBook Pro is nice.

iJack

With an app that puts a golden rectangle/ratio grid on the screen.

Photographers and cinematographers use the “Rule of Thirds.”  Many cams, including my Canon XL2; offer the option of showing Thirds hairlines in the viewfinder or monitor if you are using one.

An app should be a cinch to make.

Lee Dronick

Sir Harry Flashman said:With an app that puts a golden rectangle/ratio grid on the screen.
Photographers and cinematographers use the ?Rule of Thirds.?? Many cams, including my Canon XL2; offer the option of showing Thirds hairlines in the viewfinder or monitor if you are using one.

An app should be a cinch to make.

I can usually visualize it on cameras that don’t have the feature and can get pretty close.

hangtown

I would far rather be able go have my Nikon display routed live to my iPad than use it for its own cameras.

Steve Wille

It might just be nice to have camera with something more than a pea-sided display.  This is essentially a first in the camera industry.

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