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iPhone 3G S Hardware Can Record 720p Video, so Why Doesn't It?

Here's a question: If you're building a video-capable successor to the wildly successful iPhone 3G and you choose new hardware that supports 720p-resolution video recording, then why do you cripple it to just VGA resolution?

iPhone 3G S

It's an interesting question because that's exactly what Apple has done. The discovery was made by Rapid Repair, which got hold of a newly-on sale iPhone 3G S at midnight in Paris, and wasted no time tearing it apart to find out what its internals were like. The answer is that they're extremely similar to the iPhone 3G, which may be no surprise when you think that the 3G S is an evolutionary step up from the 3G, and even has identical screen tech and housing for the phone. 

Except for the new camera and-updated processor, of course. Which is where the interesting 720p capability comes in. The camera shoots 3-megapixel stills, and thus could be commanded to shoot 720p video—it's got more than enough pixels to spare, and the speedier 600MHz processor in the phone should be easily capable of the increased bandwidth required by 720p video. Why has Apple chosen to limit it to VGA resolution? It seems a slightly odd move, given that there are smartphones out there that shoot still imagery at 12-megapixels and can do full HD video.  

The answer is a mystery, but we can guess one probable cause. It's the same reason why the 3G S's new processor, which is capable of 833MHz speeds, is choked down to just 600MHz: Battery life. Apple's aware that the iPhone's battery is a bit small, and protects the battery performance as much as possible—its quoted as the chief reason there's no background app capability on the phone. 720p video recording and a faster processor would just eat into the battery a whole lot more.

And the reason the battery is limited is that Apple chose to stick with the same iPhone casing. If Apple would've adjusted the physical design of the phone, Apple could've easily included a bigger capacity battery. This seems to be one of those strange moments when an aesthetic design decision has squashed the opportunity to sell the iPhone with a killer feature: HD video recording.

[Rapid Repair via Engadget

Related Stories:
The Megapixel War's New Frontier: Cameraphones
iPhone 3G S Is Slick, Here's the First Hands-on Vid to Prove It
Where's the Video in iPhone 3.0?

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  • Kit Eaton

    @Konstantin True :) I think it may be a later add-on, like stereo Bluetooth activation in older 3Gs. @Craig. Nice self-edit there. @E. I'm not sure of the percentage of people who shoot mobile vid and upload it directly to YouTube--don't most people grab a clip and keep it private? It would also be perfectly possible to have a SD/HD switch, with the alert that you can't upload HD clips to YouTube etc.

  • E. Zotter

    Nope - it has to do with AT&T's data plan. HD video would CRUSH their capacity. Imagine millions of people sending HD video to Youtube and Facebook..... AT&T simply isn't ready for this - they'd have to up their costs.

  • Craig Baker

    Without a dedicated video chip it isn't in the realms of reality to encode 720p video, with the iphone CPU.
    No phone to my knowledge can record 720p (1280×720) video. This article is poorly researched.

  • Konstantin Gonikman

    hey, ATT is not the world (as US). here in germany we have 7.2 for a couple of years. Like rest of europe. It's a big market for apple

  • Scott Johnson

    Because moving 720p video files over ATTs crippled 3G network doesn't sound feasible? I mean ATT apparently can't even handle MMS. No doubt it would take a re-encode then do do things like YouTube uploads.

  • Konstantin Gonikman

    or it could be a marketing strategy. They may come later with this one "and now you can update your iPhone 3GS to HD! Just download the shiny new iPhone OS 4"