The Unexpected Uses of the iPad 2’s Rear Camera

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.)


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?


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.


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.