iPad 2 Camera Netnography

Niraj Sharma |
 07/19/11 |
6 min read

Our netnography of the camera feature in the iPad 2 shows that consumers were looking forward to it and saw it as a reason to buy or upgrade. Unfortunately, once they got to use the cameras, many were disappointed with the feature because of the poor quality and outright inconvenience of using a device “the size of a cafeteria tray” to take photos. Did Apple over-promise and under-deliver? Here’s our analysis.

How Apple Positions the Camera Feature

Here’s what Apple has to say about the camera on its website:

“You’ll see two cameras on iPad — one on the front and one on the back. They may be tiny, but they’re a big deal. They’re designed for FaceTime video calling, and they work together so you can talk to your favorite people and see them smile and laugh back at you. The front camera puts you and your friend face-to-face. Switch to the back camera during your video call to share where you are, who you’re with, or what’s going on around you. When you’re not using FaceTime, let the back camera roll if you see something movie-worthy. It’s HD, so whatever you shoot is a mini-masterpiece. And you can take wacky snapshots in Photo Booth.”

Positive Themes

The “twin cameras” on the iPad 2 were a new feature consumers were enthusiastic about.

  • @Mr_RLP Ha man I gotta have the latest technology. Theyre saying the iPad2 is 2x faster & when you include the dual cameras its a must have. (source)
  • Yeah I do have one but the IPad 2 is better .. it has 2 cameras Awh Nika I’m giving it to my mom :/ @_MsTonikaMarie. (source)
  • Freaky tweet ha RT @KeepinUpWitKita: I want the Ipad 2. It got a webcam on da front and a regular camera on da back. (source)

Consumers were also enthusiastic because the cameras make possible the FaceTime app.

  • I want the Apple iPad 2. It can play 1080 HP movies!! And a built in camera for Face Time. (source)

The cameras also deliver new “video capabilities.”

  • Welcome to the club…love my iPad 2. Been using the video camera like crazy! (source)
  • What a stunning house! iPad 2’s video is alot better than i thought. (source)
  • One thing I’m excited about the Apple iPad 2 is…The 2 cameras!! Can’t wait to video conference from my iPad 2, when I get it! (source)

One intriguing and unexpected set of comments relate to the theme “great for the deaf community.”

  • @AshleyFiolek67 then what are you waiting for?? I’m Deaf myself and I LOOVE my ipad 2. Front/back camera is a HUGE plus for deaf community. (source)

Negative Themes

The biggest negative theme is “poor quality pictures,” with specific complaints about them being “grainy” or “blurry.”

  • Granted I was taking a lower light picture inside at around 6:00 p.m. But the grain on this is almost unbearable unless your going for some kind of artsy effect. I did not buy the iPad2 for a camera. But the camera isn’t very good. (source)
  • I’ll still have my 1st gen iPad so I don’t mind trading it in. Are their any cool things you can do with it like connecting bluetooth devices, etc?  One thing I hate about the iPad 2 is the camera. I took a picture of my daughter up close and it was so blurry I thought she was a UFO. I think it’s rated at under 1MP. (source)

Another quality-related complaint is “low resolution.”

  • @RonPipes I was just let down by the iPad 2’s camera- below 1MP, that’s crazy! I bet iPad3 will jump it to 5MP, & u’ll call it revolutionary. (source)
  • My one disappointment with the iPad2 is the rear facing camera. Why even bother with that level of resolution? (source)

Many people felt the camera feature “was not needed in the iPad 2.”

  • I still haven’t found a reason to use the cameras on my iPad2. I wonder if I ever will? It would be just as awesome w/o one. (source)
  • Originally Posted by Burger: There’s no talking to these people. Last year it was the lack of a camera, now the camera isn’t good enough. I didn’t buy my iPad 2 for its cameras. Hell, I won’t even use FaceTime or PhotoBooth. And I have an iPod touch for video. (source)

Many others point out that their iPad 2 is “not their primary picture-taking device.” (And some people have a sense of humor about it.)

  • iPad2 isn’t popular as a camera. I’m shocked the size equivalent of a cafeteria tray isn’t used more for photos. (source)


The positive comments are mostly from consumers who hadn’t yet bought the iPad 2; the negative ones are from consumers who have bought the device and used the cameras.

This may be a case where consumers are expecting something Apple never promised. Apple doesn’t claim the camera on the back is a serious camera—it’s positioned more as a fun feature and a way to take quick snapshots. For example, on its website, this is what Apple has to say about the Photo Booth application:

“When the mood strikes, turn the camera on yourself, make some faces, and start shooting snapshot-style. Choose from artsy, wacky, and weird effects. Twist up your face, see yourself doubled, or look like you stepped into a comic book. Photo Booth is great for parties or just for kicks. And the fun keeps coming as you keep snapping.”

That’s not a description of a camera to be used for gallery-quality photography.

The people who are critical of the camera find the images too “grainy” (technically, they’re noisy; grain is an attribute of film) and low-resolution, which they are, but not too low for their intended purpose. Apple doesn’t claim that these cameras are going to replace your digital SLR, your point-and-shoot, or even your phone. Any consumer who holds them to that standard is going to be disappointed.

A colleague on my research team who owns an iPad 2 and is a photographer added this context:

Incidentally, the problem with noise is partly a question of lighting. The iPad 2 has no flash (or in fact any sort of camera controls, other than zoom) so shooting in low light is always going to produce noisy files. Here’s a comparison of two iPad 2 photos taken under different lighting conditions: the flowers were outside in the shade, the dog (Nicky) was inside and lit by window light.

The flower photo is quite acceptable, but note how much noisier the dog photo is. People expecting smooth, clean images when shooting in low light with the iPad 2 will always be disappointed—but the photos are fine for emailing to a friend to bring a smile, which is really what Apple expects users to do with them.

Apple does claim the camera is capable of HD video, and consumers generally seem pleased with the movie quality.

The comment about the camera capability being useful to the deaf community is worth exploring more. It could be a compelling case study for Apple.

In sum, the two cameras actually perform well at the tasks they were made to do: show people in a video chat (Face Time) and take quick, fun snapshots of people for emailing or manipulating in Photo Booth. (Yes, you can print them, too, by sending them to a wireless printer, but a very small group is likely to do that.) So Apple’s positioning and the cameras’ performance are actually in sync. And to give consumers credit for being fair to Apple, many acknowledge that the iPad 2 is an “awesome” device, regardless of how well the cameras work. A common comment was “I didn’t buy the iPad 2 for the cameras.”

About Our Approach

This case study is a form of social media analysis called a netnography—a qualitative, interpretive research methodology that adapts the traditional, in-person ethnographic research techniques of anthropology to the study of online communities.

To write this netnography, NetBase analyzed thousands of posts from consumers about the brand. The posts are automatically sorted into Positive or Negative classifications by our natural language processing (NLP) engine, then we manually sample those posts.

To summarize a netnography as we’ve done here, we distill our findings into useful insights about how the brand we studied is positioned and perceived. We can provide our source data and confidence intervals for the percentages in the theme charts upon request.

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