A Camera for the iPad? I Don't Think So

Putting a camera on the iPad seems to be at the top of everyone's list. But why?

Any release 1.0 product is going to have issues, problems, and missing features. And early adopters, the intended market, don't care. They want the latest, greatest, and coolest, and they are completely unconcerned if the product isn't perfect. Most of them, I think, get a secret biochemical rush just showing the device to their friends, deriving an ego boost from a small expenditure on a product that many won't really use all that much. It doesn't even matter if they ultimately don't like it. I'm even convinced that complaining about a bug or missing feature is part of the fun for this crowd.

Being mostly practical, I tend to look at utility and price/performance. Does it meet my intended application? Is there ROI involved? Is the TCO manageable - and this in terms of my time involved, not just cash flow? In the case of the iPad, I've decided, as I stated earlier, to get one - a 64 GB non-3G version, to be used primarily as a travel device for work. The iWork applications pushed this one over the top. I'm waiting a few more weeks, based on the assumption that any initial manufacturing bugs and changes will be worked out, and any initial software patches will be available. I'm a user; beyond discussions in this venue, I don't care if anyone knows I've got an iPad.

And I also don't think a camera is a good idea on products like this. Many are thinking that putting a user-facing camera on the iPad is practically top-of-the-wish-list essential, for videoconferencing and such. These people are undoubtedly fans of the Blair Witch Project, the Bourne series of films, and all the others that use the non-stabilized hand-held camera technique. While I'm personally a fan of this style of cinematography (although I didn't really like the Blair Witch Project all that much regardless), watching a colleague bounce around under highly-variable lighting and perhaps audio conditions as well might lead to cutting the meeting short. Even watching a friend or family member under these conditions could prove frustrating. The iPad is a hand-held device designed for personal anytime/anywhere use. Videoconferencing requires more controlled environmental conditions for success. There's a reason enterprises set up dedicated facilities for just this purpose.

Now, a camera on the back of the iPad might be interesting, yielding a "large-format" (using the term rather loosely; resolution is still pretty limited regardless) still or video camera, the latter really valuable only with a tripod or other mounting engaged, or with really good image-stabilization firmware. But, to be fair, camera components have gotten so cheap that putting them on both sides of a mobile device will undoubtedly become something of a trend. Check out the alleged (and likely) next-generation iPhone prototype on Gizmodo - notice the two cameras. And more on this debacle later. But, for now, cameras on mobile devices have always been and remain problematic for other than casual use.

The user-facing camera on mobile devices might in fact become common. I'm willing to bet that at least a small amount of motion-induced nausea will accompany this trend.

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