iSight: What’s Happening?


In June 2003 at WWDC, Apple (s aapl) released the FireWire iSight webcam. Steve Jobs and Phil Schiller took the stage to show off the new iSight which everyone applauded and subsequently purchased. The $129 webcam allowed you to broadcast video to friends via iChat AV (in beta at the time) at 640×480 resolution. iChat AV received full 1.0 status that year with the release of Mac OS X Panther.

Soon, the iSight made its way into Apple’s entire line-up of notebooks and iMacs; even the 24” LED display Apple sells has a built-in webcam. Now, the only Apple computers that don’t have an iSight are the Mac Pro and Mac mini, for obvious reasons.

In Apple’s press release for the iMac G5, which was the first machine to have an iSight built-in, Steve Jobs was quoted, “Plus, the built-in iSight video camera delivers out-of-the-box video conferencing with friends and family, as well as hours of fun with our new Photo Booth application.”

So, what happened to the iSight? It certainly wasn’t Apple’s fault that iSight didn’t get the adoption that it needed. These days, iSight has gone the way of MySpace-using teens that upload Photo Booth snaps while at the Apple Store and Skype conversations between grandparents. iSight is accessible via Apple’s Development APIs so developing for it is a cinch. There may be hope for iSight and the long-forgotten “AV” features of iChat. With the rumors of a forward facing camera in Apple’s next generation iPhone, we may see Apple’s seven-year investment into tiny cameras and easy to use chat software make its way to those away from their desk, without ever having to open a notebook and find a Wi-Fi network. But first, let’s discuss my thoughts behind where iSight has failed so far.

Where iSight Has Failed

I think it’s a philosophical reason that the iSight use never picked up, and maybe Apple will prove us wrong by making video conversations as easy as grabbing our cell phone. Technically, Apple was able to fit a video camera into the ultra-thin MacBook Air but I think Apple knew that video conversations on the go just wasn’t going to be used by consumers if it wasn’t easy.

I’d argue that Apple did it best. Sure, this is an Apple-centric blog but after years of working in IT, I’ve used video solutions from Microsoft (s msft), Logitech and Cisco (s csco) and each of these had their own quirks, device compatibility and performance issues. Any Mac sold has iChat AV built-in along with its camera. The video icon appears if someone has the same functionality, click and you see them within seconds. The problem is that it doesn’t travel. Apple’s notebooks don’t have built-in 3G and Wi-Fi isn’t always available. The iPad was my bet for truly making video conferencing mobile but that didn’t happen, at least in the first generation device. The holy grail for bringing video chat to everyone is to make it fit in your pocket, with the basic requirement being a data connection.

How it Could Work

Didn’t other handsets have video chatting software built-in? Sure. Nokia included these front facing cameras in many of its smartphones. The issue was compatibility where two handsets have the video camera and software and they frequently had to be on the same carrier, plus this was only being used in Europe and Asia. Yes, those are huge markets but it wasn’t “universal” across devices and carriers. From what I hear, the connections were too slow and the software too buggy to take over voice or texting as a preferred method of communicating with peers on the go. If the next iPhone gets this functionality, there are huge advantages that Apple has.

  • iPhones are available globally
  • Data speeds to mobile phones is much faster in 2010 compared to 2006
  • iChat on Mac OS X

I could sit at home and video chat with someone on the go in Chicago, London or Tokyo. This is what it will take for video conferencing to truly take off and receive mass adoption.

Then Again…

Then again, there are cultural and behavioral observations that show video as a direct communications tool just doesn’t sync up with how we engage these days. In theory, video seems like a great way to go. Instead of a long email that takes 15 minutes to type, we’d rather phone a friend or video chat with them, but it just doesn’t happen. The video chat isn’t distributable to the team. The video chat can’t be searched or indexed and storage is still pricey if you’re doing a lot of video conversations. Not to mention, multitasking goes out the window; instead of plowing through 25 emails, I’m getting 25 iChat or Skype video calls every 10 minutes. It’s just not going to scale very well.

So what does the future hold for iSight? That’s a tough one. The video camera is cheap for Apple to include, but is it useful to use R&D resources to include iSight in future devices? Will iSight appear in more consumer Apple devices? Will Apple take more risks by pushing this on us only to realize that we still won’t video chat despite having instant access to the service on our iPhones, laptops and desktops? If the new iPhone does get iChat AV w/ a forward-facing camera, we’ll see if the population uses it as much as we would hope…or maybe video conferencing goes the way of ExpressCard slots on Apple notebooks only used by a small percentage of the user base. Would you use iChat more if your iPhone or iPod touch had it built-in?



Adam, you were right on target with this article! The iSight is going to make a comeback now that Apple is pushing Facetime on iOS and introduced the Facetime Beta for OS X (with improvements likely coming with Lion)!


I use the iSight quite regularly. Use for Skype, for blogging, and the odd midnight PhotoBooth session.

You say that it’s for teens on MySpace and for Grandparents:
a) I am a teen, barely any body I know uses Myspace.
b) My grandparents where more marvelled over the fact of a widescreen computer over a built-in camera.

Built-in cameras on computers are a basic feature these days, if there is a problem with iSight then there is a problem with either the webcam industry itself or with the operating system running the camera. While webcam and video-conferencing aren’t the standard as predicted 4-5 years ago, it is not much to Apples fault that the iSight would be seen as a ‘Failure’.

I don’t see anywhere that proves that the iSight is a failure, people use it – maybe not on a daily basis but who would use a webcam as a replacement to a phone or email – and as long as people are using it that is what really matters.

Take for instance netbooks and other laptops, I help many people search for a computer that they want as a desktop replacement. While it would be nice if I could get them to jump to Apple, it isn’t always applicable. But what I do notice is that when people are selecting their computer they tend to go towards a computer with the Webcam, simply because it has one. They may not use it, but people tend to think a computer which can afford a webcam is better than the Acer or Compaq without the webcam.

With not much of a problem being around the fact of a webcam, it would have to be a problem with the programs surrounding it. While people use it for Skype and similar, webcam would never be seen as a replacement to email communication. While it adds a personal touch, as you’ve mentioned, it is harder to archive and go back to. One major factor about the use of a iSight becoming more prominent is that MSN for Mac doesn’t support video calls. Live/MSN/Hotmail is still one of the most prominent programs used for chatting personally. Without the ability to use webcam on MSN for Mac, Mac users are left in the dark when it comes to using that program to conference via video. Which, quintessentially means we have once less use for the iSight.

The iSight is not a failure, it is just that you haven’t looked into all options as to why your early 2000 thinking isn’t a reality.

Tsahi Levent-Levi

I think there’s a bit of wishful thinking cropping into your post. While I do believe in video conferencing, I don’t think that Apple will get it right – at least not on the current iPad or the iPhone 4G.
The iPad and iPhone have many issues related to usability. I’ve written about it the other day:
As for Nokia phones – for the past several years, all 3G phones (iPhone and US market not included) have supported a standard called 3G-324M which does mobile video telephony. It works great between handsets of different manufacturers, between operators AND when roaming. That’s well over 100 million handsets worldwide I am talking about. It still haven’t caught on because bandwidth for 3G-324M is rather limited (64kbps) and because of the same usability issues you’ll get with the iPad and the iPhone.

As for the desktops, we are already there with Skype’s latest client and in enterprises with enterprise video conferencing solutions from multiple vendors.



I am going to chime in with the “use it and love it” crowd. I am an ex-patriot working in Saudi Arabia and living in Peru. I use video conferencing extensively everyday to stay in touch with my kids and my mother in the States and my fiance in Peru. I am using a borrowed PC at the moment, but my fiance has our Macbook Pro in Peru and we communicate through Skype or gmail (gasp!), which both offer cross platform video conferencing. When I want to talk to my MSN friends with my Mac, I use Mercury because iChat, well, sucks.

As for a front facing camera on the iPhone, I think apple is blowing it. It would have been smarter to include it on the iPad. I would buy and iPad for my girl in Peru if it had a camera, because all she uses our Macbook Pro for is surfing the net, watching movies and video conferencing with me and her friends and family. We have friends and family in Europe, Asia, the US and South America that we regularly stay in contact with through video chats. But a cell phone is still a cell phone no matter how smart it is. I use a cell phone when I am out and about and I do not want to have to stare at the screen while I talk. My video chats are better suited to my living room or laying in bed or generally hanging out at my home or office. As to the popularity of video chatting, everyone I know uses it all the time, but then I am living outside the US, as are more and more US citizens (and folks from all over) these days.

Just my two cents, good conversation though.


Give it time to take off and let’s pressure all telcos to offer low-cost, contract free options as AT&T has been persuaded to with the iPad.
iPad will get 2 cameras.
So will iPod Touch.
MacBooks/Pros will get 3G a la iPad formula.
Then it will likely gain on SMS.
The advantage of SMS is that you get it quickly but can delay looking at it and responding. Videochats require you to be accessible and available to stop whatever you’re doing to pay attention. Unlikely to be tolerated at work.


Another vote here for the “what a bizarre article” response. I find the iSight on my Macs incredibly useful. I never use iChat – that truly is useless due to the fact that 90% of the world don’t use iChat or AIM – but I use Skype all the time. I travel a lot on business and it is perfect for keeping in touch with my young family. The kids also use it to stay in touch with grandparents and my wife uses it one or twice a week to talk to her parents or sister. Now that Apple are adding a front-facing camera to the nextgen iPhone and assuming Skype update their iPhone client, I predict that video chat will become even more useful. It would be great to chat to the family with video when out and about.

Stark Ravin

I agree with @Scott Rose and some of the other commenters here: what a bizarre article. I use my iSight camera (on both my iMac and my MacBook) all the time, mostly with Skype, which is a great cross platform conferencing solution. While it may not be so for the author, videoconferencing for the rest of the world is a staple of daily computing. To think that Apple would ever drop webcams (in whatever form) from their offerings is just completely out of touch with the market. In fact, the indications are strong that Apple will be moving iChat videoconferencing into the next iPhone. That doesn’t strike me as any indication of abandonment.

Fatman Ballmer

I don’t understand this article. iChat may be a failure, but iSight has been a huge success, it’s part of every Mac screen, period. In the PC world things may look different, i don’t know, I am not a PC ‘expert’ any more.

Very bizarre article.



Sorry, but this reads more like your own personal viewpoint rather than any kind of objective observation of external usage. Sure, some folks do video, others don’t. Same observation could be used for land line telephones, or a myriad of other things. But just because you might choose to only have a cell phone, it doesn’t mean land lines don’t have a purpose, does it?

Second, you might want to first define what you mean by “iSight” when you ask such ambiguous questions as “So, what happened to the iSight?” Are you, as a few folks in the comments seem to think, solely referring to the external, not-available-for-sale-in-quite-some-time-originally-firewire iSight as depicted at the beginning of the article? Because if so, simply put, it’s no longer available. Hasn’t been since it was taken off the market for containing certain chemicals which would’ve made it illegal for sale in Europe when a certain law went into effect. And apparently Apple never bothered to reintroduce a new version sans said materials (see next paragraph for reason).

However, if by “iSight” you mean any type of video camera product offered by Apple, then it’s quite clear that what started as an external add-on is now embedded in pretty much every Mac as you yourself state. And seriously, you do understand that Apple is a business, right? They don’t exactly drop coin on parts that they don’t think make their products useful or help sell them. If there’s one company that knows how to squeeze a profit out of a piece of hardware, it’s Apple.

So great, you yourself don’t use video. Kudos. But I can say personally that I find the iSight built into my iMac at work, my wife’s iMac at home, and in my MacBook Pro indispensible. Especially when we add in the iSight in my older sister’s iMac (she’s married with two kids and lives abt 350 miles away), the one in my younger sister’s MacBook (she’s married with a new baby and lives about 500 miles away), and the external iSight on my dad’s old iMac G5 and his new 27″ iMac (my folks also live about 350 miles away). Oh yeah, and my in-laws, who I helped set up with a Mac Mini and external iSight years ago, who live 1/2 a planet away (my wife has a brother who is also married with 3 kids who lives near her folks).

Those iSights get regular use, as it’s one of the easiest, most painless ways to try and close the physical gap that separates our families. Initially done to do help my wife feel closer to her mother, it’s been used to stay in touch with all our family members and to see our nieces and nephew grow over time.

Most of the time it’s all done with iChat, though on occasion one person or another uses Skype to do video with another family member or friend, sometimes because one party isn’t an AOL Instant Messenger user, and sometimes because they’re on a different platform (mostly Windows) and just prefer using Skype.

And just yesterday, my boss asked me what it would take for him (with a Wintel box) to do video with his son (MacBook), as his son just got a job about 200 miles away, and my boss wants to make sure his wife can stay in touch with their son.

So where you write “Where iSight Has Failed”, I’d argue you have no idea what you’re talking about. Please, before you write link bait, do just a modicum of homework. If anything, Apple’s inclusion of iSight has helped foster far more personal video usage than I suspect any other single vendor could claim.

Does it mean videoconferencing will take over the world? Absolutely not. As some have argued regarding the iPad, a webcam on that device may not make physical sense as you may end up with a lot of “up the nose” shots due to the angle at which the iPad may be held. And with a smartphone, the verdict is still out on how much people would use it. It’s one thing to walk down the sidewalks in Manhattan having a voice call. But try doing video, and you’re just asking to be run over.

And truth be told, I don’t anyone that wants to see a Jetson’s future anyway. There’s a time and place for video, just as there is for voice calling, instant messages, and email. “Right tool for the job” and all that. But videoconferencing has its place, be it iChat AV for personal chats or Cisco’s Telepresence for virtual boardroom meetings.

Just because you yourself don’t use it doesn’t make for a valid generalization, unless you’re one of those “legend in his own mind” kinda guys, of course. :-)

Adam Jackson

Excellent response. First of all, thanks for the great comment! Seriously, I like every point you brought up. Because I respect the time you took to write this, I’ll respond to as many point as possible.

  1. This is commentary backed up by fact. It’s my personal viewpoint asking simply, “what happened to the future which was supposed to be video conferencing?” None of my peers use it, many of the people commenting don’t video chat and out in the world, I never see anyone engaged in a video chat with someone. So, outside of the privacy of our own home, the individuals in big cities that I’ve been to and demographics of both low-tech and high-tech don’t video chat despite the fact that every notebook Apple sells has a webcam.

  2. iSight was the name of a FireWire powered auto-focus webcam Apple released in 2003. the name is trademarked and iSight is what Apple calls every built in camera on every computer they sell (soon iPhone as well). The wiki page explains that.

  3. I’ve seen, first hand, Apple’s progression of ditching things that don’t make money. the iSight is one of those features that, from a cost perspective isn’t a big deal to include. Then again, neither is keeping ExpressCard on the 15 & 13 MBPs but they only needed room for an SD slot which is more popular these days as more consumer cameras use SD over other formats.

  4. Great. As I wrote, the iSight is used by millions around the world. It’s not used in the way we all expected it to be used. The visions of 2010 where we all had camera enabled telephones in our homes and on the go and even the Internet Fridge with a camera on it where you phone your wife at the grocery and ask her to pick up some milk via her camera phone. This future of “video calling” exists now but why isn’t it a system everyone is using? Many people commenting made the point that video is personal.

To quote Joe Quartson who commented above, “A video chat is an old fashioned face to face conversation. You need time to engage with the other person and tend to do so in one place and not on the move. As you note instant messaging, e-mail, texting even speaking on the phone, don’t require you to devote that face to face time, you can do all that on move.”

His point is great and I totally agree and then I immediately see stories like this:

where teens are sending an average of 50-100 text messages a day. Not video messages, not picture messages, not voice calls. Text… This data further drives home that even the next generation is becoming less comfortable with face to face communication both in person and remotely. I foresee the pipe dream of video calls becoming less of a deal to our future generation.

If no one used the built in iSight, Apple would ditch it. When Apple ditched the ExpressCard 3/4 slot in the 15″ MacBook Pro, Phil Schiller was quoted that only single digits of their pro users used that slot so they decided to get rid of it but they did keep it on 17″ machines where more users were utilizing the slot.

Apple would do the same move if iSight really wasn’t being used. It is being used but not at the level that USB slots or Bluetooth.

Of all of the system components on today’s Mac, I’d say iSight is just below the use of the superdrive. I never said the superdrive needs to go away but digital content and media via the web has made much of what the superdrive was used for, obsolete.

To reiterate, my post wasn’t calling the death of iSight. It wasn’t my findings of a 1,000 household survey of who uses webcams. It was commentary based on a technology that was originally HUGE NEWS and is now just included on every notebook.

Finally, I ended the post with a question asking who would use video conferencing on their phone. Are you one of those people?

I truly appreciate the response and I hope this was an adequate reply that better explains my point with minor clarifications. Keep it up. your replies help me do a better job as a writer. Have a great day!


Just a small line to let you know that last beta of mac version of MSN messenger do allow now to video chat. Ok this is Microsoft but worth trying to reach windows based fellows.

Adam Jackson

Thanks for the responses. It’s actually great to see the conflicting feedback and my assumption about how people actually use iChat w/ iSight is spot on. Most people would like to use this but it’s just not convenient or appropriate for most situations. Others use this more often as family lives far away or in other parts of the world.

Glad you enjoyed the piece.


Honestly, I never use it on my iMac. If I had it on my iPhone I doubt I would use it often. Maybe just when I call the wife on skype or video chat.

I do know alot of people who use it.

It’s nice to have that option.


Huh? I agree with Scott, are you from the past? Anyone who goes to college or knows someone who goes to college uses its iSight to keep in touch. Maybe all of your loved ones live near you, but seriously, everyone I know uses Skype (or even iChat sometimes).


Thousands of deaf people are using the Macs for sign language video communication with deaf and hearing people – friends, relatives, video relay service, and skype. I am sure that it will happen with iPhone and iPad in near future. It’s a silent revolution.

Joe Quartson

I use the original isight with ichat AV to keep in touch with my parents and my wife and I use it to keep in touch with her family in Australia and the Middle East.

A video chat is an old fashioned face to face conversation. You need time to engage with the other person and tend to do so in one place and not on the move. As you note instant messaging, e-mail, texting even speaking on the phone, don’t require you to devote that face to face time, you can do all that on move.

I think until you have a need to see the other person or are prepared to make time then video chat is a nice idea. However, once you commit that face to face time it is invaluable for maintaining relationships and a connection which is different from just voice or text alone.


you know we all know there is a front facing camera on the new iPhone since it was found in the wild…but I’m not sure what I would use it for…I don’t even video chat on my macbook…so I’m not sure…but it’s nice to have the option if I want to


I’d probably try it, but in truth, I bet I’d still primarily use the built-in camera on my Macbook for my Skype video calls. I once thought it would be a cool thing to have on my iPhone, but in reality it will probably get used more by kids who want to take a self-portrait to upload to Facebook.


I’ve had the Firewire iSight since it was introduced. I’ve used it, but it’s spent way more time being the Microphone for my G5 and now Mac Pro than doing video work. Most people I have in my chat list just don’t want to video chat. (Computing in their underwear maybe?)

Great concept for a low demand item I suspect.


Interesting topic!
Here’s my simple take: IM’ing or emailing can be done silently and discretely…. people don’t want to have to dress up before each video chat. Best used as cheap alternative to international video conference calls (I know a company which specifically bought the 24″ iMacs solely for that purpose only), but for personal, there’s a huge inertia against it.
Who knows, maybe the iPhone enabled with iChat might make it popular again. I for sure would use it more for letting my wife at home help me decide what she wants in the shops.

Eric E

There are millions of phones out there with front facing cameras
Do you know anybody using this camera to hold a conversation ?
I don’t
The people I know tried it once or twice to see how it worked and never used it again

Why ?

Maybe because video calling is much more awkward than simple voice calling ?

Scott Rose

This is one of the strangest articles I’ve ever read. I feel like I’m reading an article from the 1990’s. Fast forward to today — the year 2010 — and you will see that the iSight camera is a gigantic hit, which is why it is now included — for free — with every single Apple product. And why millions of people use it for video chats every day in a variety of different applications, such as iChat and Skype.


I’m with Scott. This article is outdated. Have’t you heard of chatroulette?

I use the built-in iSight in my laptop for iChat, Yahoo, MSN and Skype conferences with people across the country/world as well as taking snap shots with PhotoBooth. I also have an original iSight that I use sometimes because it’s just better quality than the built-in camera.

“iSight: What’s Happening?”
The answer is this author forgot about it while the rest of the world was using it as a major communication tool. Sorry you got left behind. Personally, I would venture to claim that the iSight and iChatAV are a major reason why “some” people choose to purchase a Mac over a Windows computer.

Are you claiming that because cell phone providers haven’t had the infrastructure in place to enable live, two-way video chat that Apple Computer’s built-in iSight has been forgotten? That’s comparable to saying because On-Star has not taken off for General Motors people are no longer buying Chevrolets.

“Of all of the system components on today’s Mac, I’d say iSight is just below the use of the superdrive.” You have got to be kidding?! You might want to ask around and hit up some of twitter followers before you make such bizarre claims. Who uses optical discs anymore?!

Adam Jackson

Thanks for the reply Anthony.

I’m still looking for solid statistics. How many people in The US own a notebook (mac or PC) with a built in webcam and how many of them actually use that for person to person conversations in an average week.

my work requires me to meet and evaluate how people use their computers and video conferencing isn’t at the top of anyone’s list that I’ve worked with.

The conversation ended with a question so I could hear how people use their iSight and thank you for responding with your experiences.


I agree. iSight is an amazing feature that I use every day.

I couldn’t own a laptop without a front-facing camera.

Who wrote this article?


I think the problems facing the iSight are far simpler. Price and compaitibility. especially here in the UK

The isight camera on its own costs around £90. Its a good bit of kit, but for that amount you want it to do a bit more than just send video.

Another problem is that skype is the only app that makes use of it and is widely adopted. here in the UK 99% of people use msn, which ichat is not compatable with, and the MSN messenger for mac doesnt do video. So right away the only people who use it here in the UK are skype users.

the isight is a good product, but apple needs to either get on board with the IM protocols (other than AIM) or come up with another way to talk to people. No one in the UK is going to get an AIM or .Mac account tot alk to their friend in ichat. especially with .Mac setting you back £60 a year

Simon White

Thanks Ben, that saved me a lot of typing.

If only iChat could communicate with the MSN and Yahoo! chat clients it’d be a much better tool and, probably, more widely used – well, in the UK anyway.


Can you still buy the external iSight camera in Europe? I thought Apple removed them from the market almost 4 years ago, before a new European environmental law went into effect. Had to do with use of certain chemicals in the device (RoHS/lead?).

Adam Jackson

Frank. It can be purchased through Amazon and eBay as used and some people charge twice what the original retail price was (orig. $129). Then again, most computers Apple sells right now include the iSight for free.

Cold Water

Breaking things down to gender stereotypes, men don’t care about being presentable all the time, and women would insist on looking good. Face-to-face calling just isn’t compatible with our need for downtime. That doesn’t mean video isn’t useful in calls, it’s just that your face is much less important than a picture of things people are describing.


I use video calls every day with my MacBook Pro and my office iMac. Video calls via Skype are the most common thing in my eviroment. Everybody I know who has a computer is using Skype.

I’m using it for work but also with my parents or some time ago with my girlfriend during our long distance relationship…

And really, it is as easy as a normal call. Just pick up. if someone calls you or just dpuble click on his or her name to start a video call. Plus: most of the people i know have their computers alsways on.


I’d like to think I’d use it, but in reality I think I’d just be weirded out. If I’m with someone I’ll give them my full attention, but when I’m on the phone I’m often doing something else. Plus if you’re out and about and you’re making a video call I’d’ve thought it’s going to be slightly more antisocial than a normal call would be.

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