So a question that I've always been curious about are devices that contain two cameras (one for video chat, etc., and one for everything else). Of course, it wouldn't be such a big deal on devices with low-resolution displays, but because of the advent of the iPhone 4 and new iPad (/iPad 3rd Generation), those crummy VGA quality cameras really detract away from an ideal experience.

Using this article at PC Magazine, we can see that it could possibly be the price difference...

...The new camera is three times more costly than the earlier model...

Because looking at the teardown photo from iFixit really doesn't make it appear to be a physical size issue (not downplaying the cramped quarters of the real estate inside an iPad, but the VGA and HD cameras appear to be roughly the same size).

So at this point in the game, why not use the same higher quality camera for both sides of the iPad?

closed as not a real question by Ian C., nohillside, Stu Wilson, jmlumpkin, daviesgeek Sep 15 '12 at 5:00

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  • What problem are you trying to solve or learn? – bmike Sep 11 '12 at 23:54
  • @bmike No problem. Just curious about the hardware, and possible explanations for the choices therein (confirmed through the FAQ that I can ask questions related to hardware). – Terrance Shaw Sep 11 '12 at 23:59
  • We discourage questions why Apple has made choices on money, profit and components as we are not a forum for people seeking to make or market tech products. If there is a thing to learn like what the specs are so you can use it, but your question is functionally equivalent to asking why not add a bigger GPU or a can opener or any other design change. In the end, apple engineers and managers know but don't talk. These questions end up being a conversation piece as a class and mostly opinions and conjecture rather than something with an answer. – bmike Sep 12 '12 at 3:36
  • 1
    @bmike Fair enough and noted for future reference, thank you. – Terrance Shaw Sep 12 '12 at 5:35

It's pretty much impossible to answer this without inside information, but it's likely some combination of size, cost and part availability constraints.

  • Size: it's hard to tell from the iFixit photos the depth of the components, but that's almost certainly the limiting factor. That's often cited as one reason the iPod Touch doesn't have a better camera (it's simply too thin). The iPad is obviously thicker, but it's still fairly limited in depth (which seems to be the most significant dimension of the camera modules).
  • Cost: I'd put less stock in this one, but iSuppli's estimates put the iPad 3's cameras at around $12, and the iPad 2's around $4. If we assume most of that difference is in the upgraded back camera, we can make a rough guess that it would cost about $8 more to put in a better front camera. Apple makes ~30% margins, which is about $150 on the 16 GB WiFi iPad 3. So an extra $8 would eat 5% of their margin (less on the more expensive models). I'd say that's unlikely to stop Apple from doing it if they felt it was a good idea, but enough that they wouldn't just stick it in there on a whim either.
  • Parts availability: Apple ships huge quantities of iPads (17 million last quarter alone, more than 84 million to date), and new models have been supply-constrained (i.e. they can't make enough to satisfy all orders) for months after launch. Requiring twice as many of a part could have detrimental effects on production (and therefore sales and profits).

I don't think any single factor is the reason why, but if I had to put money on it, I'd say it's mostly component size and availability.

One final thought: the front camera is mostly used for FaceTime and the odd self-portrait. FaceTime quality is mostly a function of the quality of your internet connection—adding a better camera wouldn't necessarily make an appreciable difference, based on my experience with FaceTime.

  • +1 for parts availability, specifically at the launch of a new device. Though as far as the front camera's quality being negligible, that's not entirely true. I was having a FaceTime session with a friend of mine, and when he rotated the feed around to the HD camera on back to show me something, there was a night and day difference (obviously). – Terrance Shaw Sep 11 '12 at 23:30
  • I think your last point about FaceTime and bandwidth is it. it's a bottleneck/brake on bandwidth until the network infrastructure can handle it easily without choking. – Richard Sep 12 '12 at 12:41

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