In this series, I’ll be picking an OS or hardware feature Apple either doesn’t have or is not using very well. Can it be easily fixed or added? Is it 'low hanging fruit'.

#1 - iPad Camera Position

This is an issue that has come into increasing focus during the current pandemic. With everyone social distancing, working from home and not seeing family and friends very much, if at all, we've come to rely on video chat solutions such as Zoom, Google Hangout and FaceTime even more.

However when using the iPad to video chat, the camera's position on the far left means that, as we look ahead at the screen, we appear to our friends or colleague to not be looking at them. As if we are distracted by something else. It's not nice. However, if you're using a laptop or an Android tablet, the camera position above the screen shows you looking head-on. Let's be honest - I didn't need to tell you all this. You‘ve already noticed.

We all know why Apple's promo picture shows this woman in portrait...

But, why?

When the iPad was introduced it was very much a consumption device that was, bluntly, a large iPhone. Of course, it was more than that. But that's really what it was, design-wise. Back then we FaceTimed on our iPhones in portrait as we mainly do today. The iPad was shown often in portrait whether reading a book, browsing the web or even typing! The decision to keep the camera at the top made sense.

The original iPad keyboard dock

But as the iPad has progressed and evolved it's become more commonly used in landscape more. The introduction of the magic keyboard compounded this. However, like the position of the Lightning/USB-C port, the camera has just stayed put.

Ask yourself this: how many times have you or anyone you know conducted a video call in portrait on an iPad? So why hasn't Apple changed it?

Can it be moved within this hardware?

Is it possible?

So the main thing to investigate is whether it is, indeed possible. Can it be moved within this hardware?

So let's look at the high-end version - the iPad Pro.

Luckily the folks at iFixit (do check out their teardowns - they're glorious) have done all the hard work here. In their teardown of the Pro, they also take x-rays of the product.

In the images above you can see the modules for both the camera array/Face ID components and the Apple Pencil charging module, newly added into the 2018 Pro design. If the camera was to move to the top of the iPad while in landscape, the Apple Pencil charger would have to move.

So let's say Apple moved the camera components to this position. Well, firstly they wouldn't fit. Through some rough measurements on the image, we can see that the camera module is too deep to squeeze in next to the battery. And that's before we look at the full length of additional parts to the camera module.

iPad Pro Camera module & FaceID [ifixit.com]

As you can see above, the camera has extended parts that connect it pretty much directly on to the logic board. If you moved it then the battery is in the way. Similarly, if you move the Pencil charging parts it also has an extended strip which (I think - I'm not an expert!) connects directly to one of the batteries.

Apple Pencil charging & pairing module [ifixit.com]

So what does this all mean? Well, it seems that to switch the camera position would have to involve rearranging almost all of the elements in the iPad. I'm not an expert on logic boards but seeing as it is so long and can't just be rotated, it would involve some significant redesigning.

It would involve some significant redesigning.

Bearing in mind the fact that with the addition of the Apple Pencil charging module in that position it seems like Apple is doubling down on this design. They could have used that chance for an internal redesign, and again with the upgraded 2020 model. But they didn't. The longer they keep this and the more advanced the innards get, the more significant the effort to redesign it.

Low hanging fruit?

Going into this I thought that maybe it would have been quite easy for Apple to move the position of the camera. However, after looking in much more detail it's, to be fair, a lot more complex.

However, this isn't to say it isn't possible. This is Apple we're talking about. If they really wanted to do it, they could. It's just important to note that this would have to be a significant effort if they did. The fact that they haven't done it yet - and the addition of the Apple Pencil charging module in that very position - doesn't give me much hope they plan on doing it any time soon. Having said that...