Apple's iPad doesn't have a camera and it cannot conduct video chats. These features were widely expected to be present on Apple's first-generation tablet when it was announced in January 2010, and the lack thereof put Apple's iPad at a competitive disadvantage.
Many of the iPad's existing and forthcoming competitors have one or two cameras. The Research In Motion PlayBook and Motorola Xoom, for example, have dual cameras on board. Google and Motorola showed off what the native video chat application for Android 3.0 Honeycomb looks like in a series of videos released earlier this month. It strongly resembles Apple's FaceTime app and looks to be a competitive product offering from Google and its hardware partners.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab, which has been available for several months, has two cameras as well. While it doesn't run Android 3.0 Honeycomb (meaning no native video chat software), the Galaxy Tab does have access to third-party solutions such as Skype's video chatting software. With competitors besting it in at least one category, Apple needs to step up and match what is becoming an expected feature in tablets. It appears to be primed to do just that.
Earlier this week, Apple offered build number 8F5153d of iOS 4.3 for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch to its developer community. This second beta was delivered just a week after the first, which is atypical of Apple's once-every-two-week update schedule.
The first beta added a number of features to the iOS platform, including the Wi-Fi hotspot feature, wider support for third-party video streaming via AirPlay, and other small tweaks. One new feature that caught developers' eyes was the addition of four- and five-finger multitouch gestures. Alas, this feature is not intended for customer use when iOS 4.3 is rolled out.
In the documentation that accompanies the second beta, Apple explains about the four- and five-finger multitouch feature, "This feature will not be enabled in iOS 4.3 for customers, but we are providing this preview to gather input on how these gestures work with your apps."
Apple has already added some multitouch gesture support to its laptops. Users can achieve different actions on their computers by using two-, three-, and four-finger swiping motions. Adding more multitouch actions to iOS could enhance its functionality, but it appears to be an update for another time.
Offsetting that loss, iOS 4.3 Beta 2 adds some exciting new features. Screen shots included in the iOS 4.3 Beta 2 developer documentation show the existence of three new applications on the home screen: FaceTime, Camera, and PhotoBooth. The presence of these applications more or less confirms that the iPad 2 will carry at least one camera, if not two.
FaceTime is the video chatting software that comes with the iPhone 4 and the latest generation iPod Touch. Adding a camera and FaceTime to the iPad 2 would allow users to conduct real-time video chats with iPhone 4, iPod Touch, and Apple computer users. PhotoBooth is the camera application that comes on Apple's laptop and desktop computers. It allows people to take snapshots of themselves and apply fun edits to them.
Both FaceTime and PhotoBooth would necessitate a user-facing camera at the least. These applications don't necessarily mean that the iPad 2 would also have a rear-facing camera, but that would be a logical addition to the device.
Adding a camera (or cameras) and support for video chatting are essential updates for Apple to make to its second-generation tablet product a more competitive offering in what will be a crowded market.