Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Why won’t Apple permit video recording on the iPhone?

It’s a simple, basic question but one whose answer eludes me. Why won’t Apple permit video recording on the iPhone?

The application Cycorder, which only works on iPhones which have been jailbroken, permits iPhone video recording at up to 15 frames per second (the maximum the iPhone’s camera permits) at 384 x 228 pixel resolution. iPhone Video Recorder is another application for jailbroken iPhones which permits video recording on the device, albeit with a lossier compression algorithm. Every iPhone can technically record video like this, yet Apple has not approved any developers’ iPhone video recording applications in the iTunes App Store. Why?

Unboxing iPod touch
Creative Commons License photo credit: FHKE

David Chartier’s March 18, 2009, post “What Apple didn’t announce for iPhone OS 3.0” includes the following cryptic sentences which leave me wondering:

Setting aside the conversation about all that is wrong with the iPhone’s camera, video recording received no love at Apple’s event. A number of third parties like Qik have had iPhone apps in private beta for some time, but so far, none have appeared to fill the void left by Apple. In fact, as far as we have learned, most third parties have not even submitted their apps to the App Store, and they seem adamant about not discussing why.

“They seem adamant about not discussing why?!” I would consider video recording on the iPhone to be a “killer app.” Many new cell phones today support mobile video recording. With two rounds now finished, the KOCE-TV sponsored cell phone film festival “Film on the Fly” continues to demonstrate the creative fun available to anyone with a cell phone capable of recording video. Why is Apple withholding this functionality from iPhone users who have not/will not jailbreak their devices?

Flash video has been another topic of confusion for me on the iPhone.

I had thought the reason Apple doesn’t permit the iPhone’s Safari web browser to support Flash content playback was officially to limit the amount of time my kids spend in the car on Club Penguin and Webkinz. (Just kidding.) I really thought the problem was likely concerns AT&T has relating to bandwidth consumption on its 3G network. According to the same article by David Chartier, however:

The increased freedom in iPhone OS 3.0 for developers to charge micro-payments for additional app content through the App Store is another tick on Apple’s reasons for still denying Flash. While other arguments against the feature include decreased battery life and Apple’s desire to promote Web standards like HTML 5 and CSS 3, Flash poses a major threat to the App Store cash cow.

So Flash-based applications allow for money to change hands, and Apple wants most of the money changing hands via iPhones to happen in iTunes? Interesting theory. I had never read or considered this previously.

This additional info and theory about the iPhone’s glaring lack of browser playback support for Flash does not shed light on my main question, however. What’s up with no iPhone video recording? Has anyone else read, heard, or thought of a good reason which would explain this mystery?

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12 responses to “Why won’t Apple permit video recording on the iPhone?”

  1. Joshua Williams Avatar
    Joshua Williams

    The web site visited this topic this week, and claims to have a reliable source that says Apple will include video recording in a new iPhone model to be released this summer, along with a basic video editing app. A screenshot posted by a beta tester of iPhone OS 3.0 also reveals an option to upload video to a MobileMe account. The source says Apple wants to tie video recording to a better quality camera (which will also take better photos) and enhancements to AT&T’s 3G network (at least 7.2 Mbps coming this year). That’s a nice segue to Flash, which can be quite the bandwidth hog itself. The iPhone’s unanticipated success caught the Death Star noticeably off guard and brought its network to its knees in several cities. But I think that better explains the lack of urgency to get Flash adapted to iPhone, while the true reason it was left out from the beginning is more hardware-centric. Flash is a massive CPU and power consumer. Next time you browse a photographer’s Flash web site, check out the processor utilization. My MacBook Pro cooling fans go into hyperdrive trying to keep my lap from catching fire. Flash is cool, and does much, but it’s horrible to implement on mobile devices. If I had to speculate I’d say Apple can run Flash on the iPhone but doesn’t want to go there with the current solution. One thing Apple gets better than almost everyone is the value of customer experience, which is why the 2008 MobileMe fiasco was so horrifying. So, we may get Flash at some point, but I’d almost bet the gas money we’ll see video recording sooner than later.

  2. Preetam Avatar

    I think they will only introduce this feature when they are sure that 1. the battery does not take excessive hit and 2. the network is good enough to handle video file transfer. I have used some video apps on a jailbroken phone and it does hit the battery badly.

  3. KathleenVS Avatar

    Well, it doesn’t have a taser yet either, but I still like it. May upgrade my gen 1 phone for gen 3 in July.

  4. rand Avatar

    So, your starting off by saying apple won’t permit video recording, then use a quote saying that those people making the apps for video recording haven’t even submitted their apps? Am I missing something there or is this really obvious?

    As for why apple doesn’t do it themselves, my guess would be that currently the phones give really crappy results when trying to record video. apple, in recent memory (since steve came back) hasn’t done something just for the sake of doing it, they only do things they can do well. at this point, the hardware just can’t cut it to what i’d consider good enough standards.
    yes i’ve tried two apps on my jb phone to record video, neither of them stayed on long after that, the results while very mildly humorous, were not useful in any way. stop motion photography would be better. 🙂


  5. mark Avatar

    1. We don’t know that Apple doesn’t approve as supposedly no one has asked.
    2. Apple hasn’t done it themselves because it
    a. is awaiting a faster cellular network for most parts of the world (HSPA+) (AT&T says they will get there this year)
    b. is awaiting low-power chips for better quality recording and H.264 encoding (Imagination PowerVR already licensed by Apple – chips available)
    c. did not perceive this to be in high demand.

    Having said that, I think it is coming this summer with a big splash.

  6. Paul Richardson Avatar

    Hey Wes,

    I read a story that Adobe already had a beta (smaller version) of Flash for iPhone, but Apple STILL refused to allow it.

    Someone told me they thought it was that Flash apps already far outnumber those ‘official’ apps in iTunes approved by Apple, and could be easily adapted/ported to Safari for iPhone. Apple wants to keep pressure for money to flow through iTunes.

    I agree with the general consensus here about why video recording via the iPhone’s current embedded camera isn’t officially offered: hardware limits. Apple doesn’t want to do it, unless it can be done well.


  7. James Katt Avatar
    James Katt

    Apple hasn’t added video because it has to be done right.

    Currently, the main problem is the flash memory design used in the iPhone.

    Apparently, if it gets written too much = as in video work = then it can fail.

    Apple has to add video after redesigning the flash memory hardware to be more reliable. Otherwise, there are going to be a lot of lawsuits regarding iPhone failures when doing video.

    Thus, those doing video now will have to watch out for destroying their iPhones.

  8. James Katt Avatar
    James Katt

    In regard to Flash, Apple doesn’t want to be dependent on Adobe for its iPhone platform.

    Apple also wants all development on the iPhone to use its iPhone SDK, not Adobe’s Flash development system.

    Adobe descriminates against Apple when it comes to Flash. Flash runs 10 times slower in Mac OS X than Windows on the same hardware. Adobe hasn’t bothered to improve its programming for Flash for Apple’s platform. Who want that?

    Apple wants to be free of any other company when it comes to its own platforms. This is why it is pushing hard to improve the current standards – HTML 5 and CSS.

    With Apple’s contributions, HTML 5 and CSS (with hardware accelerated 3D and Animation) can do everything that Adobe’s proprietary Flash. Thus Apple doesn’t have to use Flash.

    Over time, Flash will be dead. Adobe is thus desperate to get it on the iPhone.

    With the dominance of the iPhone, web developers realize the have to design web sites WITHOUT Flash. Many have made the transition and more will do so.

    Thus Apple has NO need to be hampered by Flash.

  9. Tim Holt Avatar

    Probably the most disturbing thing about Flash for the Iphone is IF Apple decides to release a netbook/ipodtouchbook it better run Flash if they want to sell it to the educaton market. So many education websites like Imagination Startion, Study Island, V-Math Live and on and on use Flash that Apple would be stupid NOT to have Flash.

    As it is now, the iPod and iPhone are not big education sellers (yet) so they don’t see a need for Flash on them yet.

    El Paso

  10. MPR Avatar

    Personally I see the lack of video recording on iphone as a testament to Apple not wanting to enable something that is too crappy. The 2MP stills camera gets a whole lot of flak, imagine what people would say about naff video recording capability? Whilst Apple may eventually relent, for now it’s better to have you wanting a mediocre video recording capability than delivering the mediocre video recording capability (and let’s be honest it is mediocre, 15fps and not even SD). So, when eventually Apple do deliver the mediocre video recording all those who wanted it will be happier (like MMS .. enjoy your phone bills MMS-ers!) than if mediocre video recording was available from day 1. Well, maybe.

  11. KenC Avatar

    I never realized there was such a demand for 15fps QVGA or less. I mean, I’ve been using digital cameras practically from their commercial inception, and have often used their video capabilities, but QVGA or less quickly lost my interest.

  12. jbelkin Avatar

    Video recording is nice but hardly a ‘killer app.’ that Apple can add anytime they need to ‘add a feature’ It’s not nearly as important as push or copy/paste … or even like a 5 MP camera … I’ll say it again, FLASH will NEVER appear on an iphone.

    a) 98% of Flash is for pointless browser ads. Neither Apple nor AT&T want to deal with it.

    b) 2% are for apps or games – now that the ap store is fully up & running, why eat up bandwidth to let people pay someone ELSE to play games? Or view flash ads?

    First, why do people even want Flash? Flash is the animated gif of the our web 2. It served its point once but is now just dancing bananas.

    Why is Flash the only internet technology that requires you an “out?” Flash is ONLY for design awards – nothing else.

    Add to fact that Adobe insists on upgrading it every 3 weeks to create the illusion people want to go to does not help.

    And Adobe choose to make an enemy of Apple – now they have to live with that.

    Flash – done.

    Animated CSS – bring it on.