Leaked packaging from Apple’s new MacBook Pro computers confirms a change that has been a long time in coming: Apple is officially changing the names of its built-in Mac cameras from “iSight” to “FaceTime,” and it’s also creating a new distinction: “FaceTime” versus “FaceTime HD.”
The first change actually didn’t take that long—Apple only introduced FaceTime for Macs in October of last year. But the second change, by which it acknowledges that some Macs have better cameras inside than others, is years in the making. Apple started to sneak higher-resolution cameras into some of its Mac computers three years ago without advertising the change. Old iSights used 640×480 resolution, just like FaceTime on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G. But newer iSights—at least, some of them—more than quadruple the resolution to 1280×1024, or 1.3 Megapixels. Apple builds the better iSights into most of its computers, but not the MacBook Air, a shortcoming of the smaller laptop that the company hasn’t been keen to publicize up until now.
New MacBook Pro boxes show that Apple is going to refer to the Mac’s built-in camera as “FaceTime HD,” which we can guess will be the same as the underpublicized 1280×1024 better iSight cameras—just a marketing and name change. Yes, it’s possible (and possibly great!) that Apple would use this as an opportunity to upgrade Mac cameras across the board, potentially just improved-sensitivity backlit sensors that would perform better in dimly-lit rooms, or maybe even a significantly higher resolution sensor with a better lens, like the ones in Logitech’s Mac-ready HD Pro Webcam C910. Any of these changes would make indoor video calling over FaceTime considerably better than it is now.
We’ll know soon enough what Apple really means by “FaceTime HD,” but we’re not expecting radical improvements. Apple has so prioritized thinness in its recent designs that improved camera performance—which often depends upon having more room inside an enclosure in order to add autofocus capabilities, get better sensors, and the like—has always been a distant second or third priority. Expect FaceTime HD to become Apple’s new ceiling for front-facing video camera performance, and for the ceiling to stay in place for a while; giving select iOS devices similar capabilities will be the next logical step.