Turn Your iPhone into a Powerful Webcam with Camo

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2020/07/24/turn-your-iphone-into-a-powerful-webcam-with-camo/

A new system from Reincubate lets you use your iPhone’s camera as a virtual camera for your Mac, giving you a higher-quality option for videoconferencing services and other video apps. Plus, Camo provides unprecedented control over the iPhone camera’s settings and features.

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I tried this, but could not find a way to get the audio working. That seems like a major omission. Are they working on that? I mean I could use a usb microphone if I had one, or my AirPods but they’re poor quality microphones and I don’t want to rely on the battery life.

No audio yet—it’s on their roadmap, but this is just about swapping about the video part. I use a headset for audio and most people use either a headset, earbuds, or built-in audio. Using the audio from an iPhone or iPad is somewhat problematic, because to get the video in the right position, the audio likely won’t be. Videoconferencing software and video-capture/editing software allows separate A/V inputs, so it’s not a functionality problem.

I say this as someone who has at least 20+ subscriptions and has recently added several podcasts at $50/year…

$40/year for Camo Pro ‘feels’ about twice as much what it feels like it ‘should’ be.

Now, I was fortunate enough to get a decent webcam back before they all went extinct (aka “Backordered”), so perhaps my level of “need” is lower than many potential customers.

I also don’t understand where the need is for ongoing support and development here. Are we to expect new functionality and features? The ones mentioned in the article aren’t all the compelling (I, for one, hope that virtual backgrounds are a fad that will die out soon, and 4k streaming seems fairly pointless )

Otherwise, $40/year to get rid of the watermark (since, as you mentioned, “higher than 720p video” is actually not as useful as one might assume at first glance) seems like a lot.

Would be nice to have a monthly subscription offer, too, even at $5/month, maybe for people who have job interviews or just want to try it before they commit.

Of course, if I was launching this app in the midst of COVID-19, I’d set the price high, too. At least you guarantee yourself one good year’s worth of income.

One hour later…

Dammit.

So, I downloaded the app, just to test it out and see what it looked like next to my $170 webcam.

Guess what? My ~$1,000 iPhone 11 Pro Max camera is better than my $170 webcam camera.

A lot better.

(If you use the 2x zoom you might find it is too good … unless perhaps you’re 22 years-old and have avoided the sun.)

The watermark is pretty obnoxious, and almost none of the features of the app work without a subscription. It’s better to think of the free mode as a “demo mode, of some of the most basic features”.

I don’t have a great way to hold my iPhone in position during video calls, so I guess now I need to look for some kind of iPhone stand/tripod that I can use on my desk?

Is the app worth $40/year? I don’t know. There are a lot of features missing (keyboard shortcuts, for starters). It’s definitely 1.0 territory (it seems stable, and basic functionality works, but there’s not a lot there yet).

Is it worth $40/year to be able to use your iPhone for video calls?

In 2019 the answer probably would have been “Nah, not really.”

In 2020? The answer is “Yes, probably.”

Le sigh.

p.s. - biggest “FYI / Warning” right now is that it does not work with FaceTime. It also doesn’t work with Hand Mirror, which is a bummer.

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I tried this out with my iPad Mini 4 and 2017 iMac, and first impressions are really good, much better than relying on my iMac’s built-in camera. I’m undecided on whether I’d use it enough to justify the Pro subscription.

I think you’re answering your own questions here!

  • Development is expensive and $40/year can seem like a lot. And it definitely is for people who need a camera only casually. But for business use, it seems like $20 versus $40 a year isn’t that big a difference and it will help Reincubate commit to a constantly evolving roadmap of feature improvements. (I do think a monthly option is always good, even when it’s much higher, like $5/month versus $40/year.)
  • It’s unclear what the market size is for this, so they’re testing the waters, too, surely. This could be quite niche, but a sustainable and worthwhile product at $40/year and totally not at $20/year. Price elasticity is something, but I don’t think they’re losing a huge chunk of the target audience with the price difference.
  • Because they’re updating an iOS/iPadOS and macOS app (plus Windows) and working with dozens of other video apps to make sure Camo doesn’t break suddenly (particularly with the quick update cycle of many apps right now), that’s a lot of additional development and maintenance expense.
  • Your update about your webcam versus iPhone 11—well, you just sold folks on the product!
  • Even at 720p, it looks a lot better than the FaceTime HD camera in most conditions.
  • The watermark is not very big! I would hardly call it obnoxious myself; I’ve seen much worse.
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Pricing things for business users makes sense, and they are most likely not going to care about $40 vs $20.

As for the watermark… I think I may just have a complete allergy to that type of thing. I wouldn’t dream of using that on a real call.

I get that — but you know what’s funny? I got over that hump in part because Skype and other services stick a HUGE watermark on the screens used for TV broadcasting! So I don’t watch a lot of TV news, but there’s always a big ZOOM or SKYPE logo in the corner of interviews these days.

I love your comments on Camo! Here’s a few thoughts as the author of the app.

I’m glad you feel the additional features are valuable! The free edition unlocks amazing video quality from your iPhone. Relative to that, I was worried some users might feel the extra settings were a smaller value-add.

Feedback from our beta testers ran the gamut. Some said they didn’t mind the watermark and felt we were giving too much away, whereas others made it clear they’d do whatever they could to avoid it. It’s a tricky balance to get right!

The subscription idea is great, and it’s one we’ll be exploring in the coming months.

On keyboard shortcuts, what would you like to see? We have global pause / resume but when we ship presets I figure the need will be more pressing. As we’ve not gone deep on shortcuts yet, feedback from users will have an outsize impact on what we implement in the end. (Feedback might be best to support@reincubate.com, though I’ll certainly be reading any here.)

I wrote in our FAQ about why we made it a subscription, and detailed some of our history in making and marketing software. The tldr is that there’s no small work in maintaining support for 40+ apps.

It’s not “build it and it’s done”: up until now, I’ve got the feeling that vendors in this space just built the tech, and if it works with apps it works, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I took the fight to Zoom to win support for virtual cameras. WebEx – and others – are next on my list.

I’ve just committed support for Hand Mirror, as you mentioned it. This’ll pop out with a new integration in Camo Studio, either later this week or next. I’ve also added in support for Pearl, which is a similar product.

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I’ve been using a program called EpocCam ($8) for various web-based chats. I haven’t used it with Zoom as I am one of the few people who nearly never uses zoom. It works quite well for what I’ve needed it for (mostly roll20.net).

It is a bit fiddly, but I say to os worth give the app a try before you make the $8 IAP and see if it works for you.

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That just reminded me of back when I used to watch a lot of cable TV.

I think VH1 was the first station to put its logo as ever-present on the screen in one of the lower corners, but eventually it seemed like everyone was doing it.

That always annoyed me. (As I mentioned, I think I have a thing about this.)

Of course what is so much worse is that then they started using that bottom ‘row’ of the TV screen to promo things during the show, such as what was coming up on the evening news, etc.

Ugh. I’m so glad I never watch any of the crap anymore.

You’re reading something that I didn’t write.

I didn’t say that I found them valuable, only that they did not work unless I paid for a subscription.

As it turns out, I find almost all of the “Capture Settings” to be not something that I would use / need, and the defaults work just fine.

I thought the “Use Your iPhone’s Flash To Light Yourself” feature would be useful. It’s not (at least to me).

Because there was no true demo (where one could use all of the features before paying) and no monthly subscription, it cost me $40 to find out that I wasn’t going to use most of the advanced features.

The obvious ones (to me, at least) were ones to switch which lens was in use, and to control the zoom level (not to be confused with Zoom.app)

Again, my issue is not so much with the idea of a subscription as with the actual cost of this subscription.

$40/year still seems like a lot, and it feels like (right now at least) I am mostly paying for getting rid of the watermark. The only other feature that I’m using is the zoom to pull in a little closer.

I’m not sure what 40+ apps you are referring to. At first I thought you were saying that you sell 40+ apps, but that doesn’t seem like it. Is Camo meant to work with 40+ different apps? That would seem odd, since it doesn’t even support FaceTime.

The big ‘discovery’ here is that my iPhone camera is much better to use than even my external web cam.

I’m not convinced that is worth $40/year.

Quite frankly, this feels like something that should be a part of the operating system. Apple already has this ‘continuity camera’ thing which allows you to use your iPhone camera fairly closely with macOS. You can use your iPhone to work as a camera with QuickTime recording. Seems like it would be a fairly small step for Apple to say “Oh, yeah, now your iPhone will show up just like an external webcam that will work with any app that works with web cams.”

Will they do that? I have no idea. But it definitely seems like something they could do, and arguably should do, especially considering how bad the built-in webcams are.

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Sorry! I misunderstood your comments. I thought it might be interesting to hear from the maker of the app, and to say that I was looking at making some of the changes you suggested with keyboard shortcuts and a monthly option as a result of your feedback, but I’ll bow out. (Yes, Camo does support a lot of apps. FaceTime gets treated in a special way by Apple, which is why it’s an exception.)

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There’s actually a simple reason why. In the past, most TVs had mechanical tuners with a display so you could always see what channel you’re watching. When digital tuners became common, those displays went away. Today, you need to push a button on your remote control in order to see what channel you’re tuned to.

Additionally, thanks to cable and satellite, a given channel will appear on different channel numbers in different locations.

By putting a “bug” in the corner (or a banner across the screen, in the case of most news channels), you always know what you’re watching.

It also has the side-effect of reducing piracy. A recording of the broadcast will include the bug. If you try to redistribute the recording, everybody will know it’s a recording of a TV broadcast and what channel it was recorded from.

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That was quite good to hear, and I was glad to hear your comments, and that you were open to those suggestions.

I very much hope that the app is a success. It’s definitely a useful feature. I’ve purchased a “gooseneck” mount for my iPhone so I can continue to use with with Camo for the time being.

I consider it a good 1.0 and will be interested to see what the year ahead brings.

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I actually thought VH1 was genius for doing that at the time. It was helpful way to know what channel you were watching and distinguished it from MTV.

However, it’s important to remember what that initial logo looked like: it was small and transparent and quite subtle. It also wasn’t always there, just occasionally. You almost didn’t notice it unless you looked for it. Unfortunately, the copycats didn’t copy that part of the idea: they starting putting giant, obnoxious logos permanently on the screen.

The worst were channels like CNN headline news where people and businesses who left that channel on all day long starting experiencing permanent burn-in on their TVs. (You’d see a ghost of the logo even on other channels and while watching DVDs.)

Now, like the poster mentioned, channels have added animation and popups and scrolling text and all sorts of wickedness to promote other shows. The worst for me is when they cover up important content of the show you’re watching – such as subtitles, credits, and other items (HGTV is particularly awful about this).

Now I curse VH1 for their invention, though it’s not their fault. It’s not much different from anything on the internet that was created for good and then abused so that now we have spam and 15MB javascripts. :roll_eyes:

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Very helpful write-up from @glennf, and really wonderful to see @afit participating in this discussion! If a developer is that responsive and interested in feedback, I’m in. Now the trick is figuring out how to mount my iPhone in the right way. And I suppose I should clean up the background in my office.

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I just want to chime in to say that while I certainly want to be clear that I bear the developer no ill-will, I largely agree with a lot of tjluoma’s points.

This could be quite niche, but a sustainable and worthwhile product at $40/year and totally not at $20/year.

I also fully support businesses creating sustainable business models in order to keep development going and happily subscribe to products in order to sustain them, but that doesn’t just fundamentally mean that all subscription pricing is therefore reasonable. $40 would be a healthy one-time cost for what is basically a system utility, much less as a per-year subscription. $40/year is in the same neighborhood as something like 1Password or Fantastical (which offer far more utility, are seemingly more complex applications including web-services as part of the product, and seem to be doing okay sustainability-wise) much less compared to non-subscription software in the same price range like Affinity Photo. Maybe $40/year is the exact amount to the penny that is required to keep it going, but the value proposition seems out of wack from the consumer side.

At $20/year, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But $40/year just to make my Brady Bunch square in a Zoom call look a little nicer (even in 2020) is a tough sell—let’s not forget that most of the services we’d use this with are going to compress the holy heck out of your video anyway, whether you start out with 4k or not. So even though I’m totally in that niche, they’re currently earning $0/year from me.

aranpura
Now the trick is figuring out how to mount my iPhone in the right way.

The company wrote a very helpful article on the subject. https://reincubate.com/support/how-to/iphone-webcam-mount-guide/

It might be worth looking at the product documentation before critiquing, though. They have a list (on the site and in the app) of what they’ve tested for compatibility and a major workaround for some. FaceTime isn’t on the list yet, but it’s on their roadmap. I noted above as well that Camo has to stay in tune with dozens of apps with which its users might interact.

Definitely an issue of audience. For me, the $40 a year as a business expense is no big whoop, because of the amount of time I’m spending dealing with videoconferencing and some upcoming recording plans. I have a mirrorless camera, but it’s actually a bit of a pain to set up to record video, while the iPhone is very straightforward to feed into my Mac with Camo.

As TJ notes earlier, he’s not sure any of the capture settings that come with the subscription are worthwhile to him. And I am not sure, either: it’s great to have photographic/image adjustments, but being able to shoot or stream 1080p or 4K from the iPhone is more important to me than the other stuff.

That said, too, as a subscription product, Reincubate has every motivation to keep adding and improving features, because there will be competitors and they have to justify themselves at each renewal.

I think I mentioned it well above, but from the business side, I can understand putting all the chips on a $40/year subscription cost, because it tells the developer immediately whether they can have and increase an audience of the size necessary to produce the product in the long haul. With a monthly option or a lower yearly rate, I’m not sure it answers enough questions or produces the short-term revenue they need.

I definitely will critique subscription prices I think are too high for the value. TextExpander never makes sense to me as a subscription product based on my use; the pricing is absolutely business oriented, and I really don’t make enough use of it for that. (I still use the previous, non-subscription release.) 1Password, on the other hand, I immediately signed up for a family subscription and it was a good deal all around relative to the previous standalone product prices and what value my whole family gets out of it.