A lot has been said about Apple’s upcoming MacBook Pro refresh. Thanks to industry leaks, we can expect thinner bezels, a new design, greater port variety, and much more. But the webcam? No one seems to be talking about that — and that is a problem.
You see, Apple likes to say its MacBook Pro laptops are the best in the biz. They have professional-level performance thanks to the new M1 chip, pro storage speeds on their megafast SSDs, and pro longevity thanks to their top-notch construction. But since when is 720p a pro webcam resolution?
Back when Apple was still making MacBooks with butterfly keyboards, I bought a 2015 MacBook Pro because I wanted something more comfortable to type on. I got it in 2019 and a crummy webcam was an acceptable price to pay for avoiding my own personal butterfly hell. Little did I expect that two years later, Apple would still be pumping out $2,000 laptops with the same low-grade front-facing camera that it has been using for close to a decade.
It is not just the MacBook Pro that is afflicted. The MacBook Air also has the same resolution on its webcam, as does the 21.5-inch iMac. You can even buy an iMac with a 720p webcam and a 1080p display for the comprehensive low-res Apple experience, but that is another issue entirely. Despite these devices all knocking around for years and years, only the 5K iMac has been upgraded to the land of 1080p webcams — but you must pay at least $1,799 for that lofty privilege.
Back before COVID-19 turned the world upside-down, this resolution dearth might not have been such a problem. I could get by with the occasional FaceTime call every other week where, like a bat, I had to recognize the caller more by sound than by sight. It did not matter because I used it so infrequently. But now? Now, it is no longer good enough.
Being locked down at home sucks. Being stuck in meetings all day also sucks. But you know what is worse? Being stuck in meetings during lockdown with a grainy 720p webcam. Peering through the pixels to see the latest org chart or trying to make out Terry from accounts discussing overheads can be taxing at the best of times, but when it is a challenge to see what is in front of you, that is a new level of misery.
If Apple brings out a new raft of MacBook Pro models this year and outfits them with lowly 720p webcams, it will be especially grating because of the wide-ranging nature of the MacBook redesign. If the rumors are to be believed, this is going to be the biggest overhaul of the device in five years or more. If it still comes with an F-grade webcam, it means Apple’s crack engineering squad looked it over and said: “You know what? That is good enough.”
But “good enough” is not the Apple way. For better or worse, the company has always tried to position itself at the top end of the market. It may gouge a hole in your finances and make your bank manager wake up with the cold sweats, but at least you know you are buying quality. So why must Apple insist on making that philosophy apply to everything except the webcam? Did the company forget? Or does it just not care? Neither of these possibilities is exactly encouraging.
It’s especially disheartening for Mac enthusiasts when Windows laptops have started to fix the problem. Some of the new ThinkPad laptops have embraced 1080p webcams, which are already showing up in devices like the Surface Pro 7 or Pixelbook Go.
Our first hope is that you do not need to do anything at all (other than buy a new laptop, of course), and that Apple comes to its senses and upgrades the MacBook Pro webcam to 1080p (or better, but I might be getting a little carried away there). If that comes to pass, all will be fine and dandy in webcam world.
If that does not happen and we are stuck with the 720p version for yet another product cycle, fear not, as you still have options. The first is to buy a good-quality external webcam — our favorite is the Logitech C920S. Sure, it is an additional cost, but you can get a cheap $50 1080p webcam that will be miles ahead of what your MacBook offers. If you frequently find yourself in video calls to work, friends, and family, the outlay is worth it.
If price is an issue, there is a great low-cost alternative in the form of an app called Camo. This lets you turn your iPhone into a webcam with some clever software for iOS and your Mac. If you have an old iPhone lying around, just install Camo, fix it in place, and away you go. Because it uses your iPhone’s lenses, the quality is usually excellent, even on older phones.
But at the end of the day, we should not have to scramble around for solutions to something that so obviously needs fixing. This is something Apple itself needs to remedy by upgrading the MacBook Pro webcam to at least 1080p. With the new laptops expected to launch around the middle of the year, we might not have long to wait.
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