Up next for the iPhone: Video calls

Chicago (IL) – By now, it appears to be clear that the next
big thing for the upcoming iPhone refresh will be video capability. While it is pretty obvious that
the next-gen iPhone will combine a 3.2 megapixel camera capable of
recording videos and an entirely new Movies

application for basic video editing and sharing, it seems that video
calls could emerge as the new killer feature. The iPod touch may get a
5 megapixel camera, enabling Apple to further distance itself from
its rivals in the music space and go after the digital camera market as

A video sharing option hidden under the MobileMe section of the Settings interface
in the iPhone OS 3.0 was the first clue hinting to the next iPhone’s video
capabilities. Hans Wu of DigiTimes followed-up with claims that OmniVision beat out STMicroelectronics and Aptina Imaging for both 3.2- and 5-megapixel CMOS orders by Apple, the latter allegedly “for another Apple product expected to be launched later in the year.”

MacRumors posted screenshot of a tweaked Camera app that has a new function to switch between taking still images and recording videos, in addition to auto-focus camera, magnetometer (digital compass) and voice control hints. Benm.at discovered UI elements (translated from German via Google Translate) suggesting a new video editing app, likely called Movies. While video is clearly the next iPhone’s key differentiating feature, the actual implementation matters the most.

Basic video editing features

Don’t expect Movies to allow more than basic video trimming and sharing via MobileMe, email or MMS (similarly to audio editing of the new Voice Memos
app) due to battery life and CPU concerns. For example, a simple filter
applied to a 2-megapixel image (1600×1200) using the Photo fx
app on current iPhone takes a few seconds and repeated use drains the
battery noticeably. Complex editing of dynamic video content from a 3.2 megapixel camera (2048×1536) could be too much even for the
next iPhone’s multi-core CPU and GPU, optimized for GPGPU acceleration.

Video sharing options discovered in developer betas of the iPhone OS 3.0 (left) and a new feature in the Camera application that switches between taking still images and recording videos (right) provide solid evidence of the next iPhone’s video features.
Image credits: Engadget (left), MacRumors (right)

Up next for the iPhone: video calls

I believe that video calls will differentiate the next iPhone from
other video-enabled phones in a big way. AT&T is currently
upgrading its network to HSUPA (7.2 Mbps), allegedly via Juniper
routers that typically handle video streaming. If the upcoming iPhone’s
killer app is videoconferencing, then the handset may use a front-facing camera for video calls and a back camera for still images,
explaining why Apple ordered both 3.2- and 5-megapixel image sensors.

If Apple can turn its “Integrated sensing display”
patent into reality, the iPhone’s display could simultaneously act as a
touchscreen, display device and a video camera, thanks to image sensors
squeezed between LCD cells. The iChat widget patent is another powerful weapon in Apple’s war chest
that may allow video calls to reach users in their living rooms via Apple
TV, sitting before their desktops or on the go, via an iPhone. Perhaps it is a
bit intrusive, but the idea has legs and the potential to take video calls
to an entirely new level.

Conclusion: iPod touch goes after digital camera market?

Or, as noted by BSN,
it could be that the next iPhone will get a 3.2 megapixel camera while
the iPod touch will get a 5 megapixel version, enabling the music player to go
after the entry-level and snapshot digital camera market. It certainly makes sense, with
portable consoles like the DS, DSi and high-end phones targeting this segment.
A camera-equipped iPod touch would reduce the number of gadgets users
carry around in their pockets.

Most importantly, the move will distance
Apple from rivals in the music market. It remains to be seen which
video route the company takes. No matter how you look at it, video is
coming to the next iPhone – in a big way.


According to this Apple patent, video calls may reach users on their desktops, in their living rooms and on the go, via Mac or PC, Apple TV or the iPhone, respectively.