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 crying somewhere† Others wondered if this was really the best Apple could come up with after years of grainy MacBook graphics 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 sounds seriously impressive. It could turn your iPhone into a full-fledged camera for Mac, one that does almost everything you’d 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 a camera and microphone, period, so each camera app should work. While Apple only showed FaceTime and mentioned Zoom, Teams, and Webex at the big WWDC 2022 keynote, developers shouldn’t do anything about their apps to make them work.
You also get Portrait Mode, “Studio Light” and Center Stage options regardless of the app. They’re located in a Control Center drop-down menu, next to your iPhone’s battery.
You can rotate your iPhone in any direction and it will still work. You get a zoomed in effect when your iPhone is in portrait orientation. Here’s a quick and dirty image slider of the difference:
FaceTime isn’t the only app that “magically” switches to your iPhone when you drop it. Xing demonstrated that with Zoom, and Apple offers an automatic camera selection API that can be used by other apps as well. macOS Ventura automatically switches to your iPhone when mounted on a stand and either connected via USB or detected as “nearby” via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
It works wired – not just wireless. USB cables are fine if you’re concerned about interference or keeping your iPhone charged.
Apps also allow your Mac to take photos and videos from your iPhone. In addition, it can optionally pass on face detection and body detection ‘metadata’, which sounds a bit intriguing and a bit creepy at the same time. Captures maximum at 1920 x 1440 and 60 fps.
There’s also an API for Apple’s convenient Desk View mode† Apple has come up with a way to bend and crop images from the iPhone’s superultrawide lens so you can show things on the surface of your desk without moving your phone. That’s also available to app developers, and Xing showed it off as a way to showcase in Zoom:
App developers can also capture 30 fps, 1920 x 1440 res video from Desk View.
(You can see a better demo of Desk View at 1:40 in this video.†
Unfortunately, none of this works with those old iPhones you have in a drawer. Continuity Camera requires iOS 16 in addition to macOS 13, Xing revealed — and unfortunately the iPhone 6S, 7, and the first-generation iPhone SE and earlier won’t get an iOS 16 software update. That’s a shame because it feels like it could be a great way to make use of an older phone that has no trade-in value. Still, there are other ways to turn an old spare phone into a webcam.