The compelling evidence for an on-board camera comes from Mission Repair, which claims to have just received some pre-shipped spare parts from Apple for reasons unknown (to get their repair business up and running well ahead of the launch?). Among the fragments of electronics and cases was a metal rectangle with incredibly detailed machining that sits inside the iPad and presumably gives the chassis some of its rigidity and strength. All very interesting, if you’re a CNC nerd.
But check out that odd little rectangular pit with a 3mm-ish hole right at the top, center. Mission’s guys did, and they thought it looked familiar. Pulling one of the standard iSight Webcam units from a unibody aluminum MacBook they tried matching the two up. And like Cinderella’s glass slipper, and almost as exciting–it fits! Perfectly. Right down to a spot for the LED to tell you the camera is on, and a space for the ambient light sensor.
Right. What the hell is going on here? We know from other developers that there are fragments of code in the iPad SDK that suggest that a camera may be supported: Why else would the “add photo” to a contact option allow you to “take photo“? Apple’s also just enabled 3G VoIP calling, turning Skype and its similar apps into a much more powerful system–surely video conferencing is the logical next step, along a road Apple now seems prepared to tread? And Steve Jobs himself said iPad had an ambient light sensor during its launch presentation, and it’s also detailed on the company’s iPad specs page. Would Apple go to the trouble of including code in the device’s firmware, and designing the chassis so it could take a standard Apple Webcam part with built-in ambient light sensor, only to ditch everything apart from a new ambient light device?
That doesn’t make much sense–and if you’re about to suggest “But Apple may be holding it back for a version 2.0 revision, which explains the metal chassis” then think about it: Apple’s iPad 2.0 will be an evolution, with a bunch of new tech inside, and it’s probably still in early prototype phase. By the time it’s ready for release Apple will have had to design a new chassis to fit around the new tech.
So we’re down to three options. First, much like what’s rumored to have happened to the iPod Touch’s camera, Apple may have elected to pull the option for technical reasons at a very late stage in the iPad’s development. It may be to do with battery life problems, hardware integration issues…you name it. Or the second option, which is much more favorable, is that Apple’s keeping a little secret or two from us before they actually launch the device. Is this true? We can’t tell–of course. But Apple is being a little shy about iPad specifics, right down to the fact that international prices and delivery dates haven’t been nailed down yet, and the regionalized Web pages reference the price in U.S. dollars.
Lastly, for the biggest skeptics, is the fact that Mission Repair’s part isn’t the real deal, or that they’ve been shipped a prototype frame by accident. How on earth did they get hold of this stuff anyway? Presumably through direct partnerships with the same Chinese suppliers Apple uses.
And if that’s not enough excitement for you, there’s also a persistent Verizon version rumor. It hit the news before launch, and it’s been bumbling along ever since, with new claims from a Verizon insider that a CDMA iPad will be announced in a few months. It’s got everybody in the U.S. excited because of AT&T’s poor network track-record with the iPhone. But the naysayers are having a field day, saying the dual-hardware route is very much anti-Apple.
To these folks I’ll say one thing: the iPad has two versions. The Wi-Fi only and the 3G/GPS one. The cheaper model may be manufactured with the common “missing component” method on the production line, where both versions have the same PCB but one lacks key pieces. But since the 3G iPad has a different body, with a plastic antenna patch, and it requires a 3G antenna, the GSM and GPS silicon and all the ancillary bits and bobs, who’s to say they didn’t build in support on the PCB for CDMA chips too?