Hey Apple, Macs need less crappy webcams

Apple laptops are popular with podcasters and video conferencers. Why do so many of us buy external cameras? Because the FaceTime camera built into the Mac is mediocre at best.

I love my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. It's the best laptop I've ever used, except for one glaring problem: I find the FaceTime camera built into it to be completely inadequate. Within a few days of receiving it I'd also gotten a Logitech C920, an external webcam with full 1080p resolution. Its manufacturer doesn't even officially support the Mac, but that doesn't stop the C920 from running rings around what's included with the Mac.

MacBook disappointment

Hopefully that provides some context for why I'm disappointed with Apple's decision to outfit the new MacBook with a 480p FaceTime camera. That's even lower resolution than the one in my two-year-old Mac laptop. I can't get too upset with it. There are reasons for everything.

The new MacBook is going to be a careful study in compromises.

The new MacBook is going to be a careful study in balance and compromises. Apple's using Intel's Core M microprocessor inside. Apple usually shies away from the low end of Intel's laptop processor line. Last year, you couldn't find anything equipped with less than a Core i5, the middle-of-the-line Intel PC processor.

The new Intel chip has already been used inside "convertible" Windows tablet/laptop 2-in-1s. Most of the convertibles I've seen sport absolutely mediocre cameras little better than mid-range smartphones. I'm willing to bet that compared to them, the MacBook FaceTime camera will shore up well.

Apple needs to up its game

The MacBook is one thing; the rest of the Mac line is another. The 5K iMac is an engineering marvel; Apple managed to work around limitations in DisplayPort technology to get the amazing screen resolution at a fast refresh rate.

The MacBook is one thing; the rest of the Mac line is another.

We won't see that sort of external monitor horsepower on the Mac until Intel ships Skylake processors (hopefully) later this year, which is why Apple's been in no particular rush to replace or upgrade the Thunderbolt Display with a 5K model, even though that would make for an excellent monitor.

Yet that remarkable iMac is still equipped with a 720p FaceTime camera, the same resolution as my two-year-old laptop. Sure, iMac and MacBook displays are thin, but you can't tell me Apple can't put a 1080p sensor on there with a decent lens.

Know your audience

I'm quick to thumb my nose at self-proclaimed "power users" who turn their noses up at the MacBook without recognizing that it isn't for them. I feel that way partly because Apple makes entire lines of products that cater to professionals: Apple attaches the "Pro" appellation to Macs befitting the name. MacBook Pro. Mac Pro. Even the iMac, for its consumer-friendly name, hits solid pro performance territory, especially in its 27-inch variant.

Apple attaches the "Pro" appellation to Macs befitting the name.

Bottom line: I'd prefer not to have junk up my otherwise fantastic Retina MacBook Pro with extraneous third-party hardware to make up for Apple's engineering deficiencies. I wish they'd do another iSight, but for Pros. Or just improve the FaceTime HD cameras they currently install.

Judging from a straw poll I took on Twitter yesterday, many of you agree. Some of you are ambivalent, and a few of you don't want any camera on your Mac at all.

I imagine a lot more of you have opinions on this, so don't let me get in your way. Should the Mac have a better webcam? Why or why not? Let me know what you think.

Peter Cohen