I wanted to take a look at the iPhone camera, because, in this post, I stated that Apple was “merely” trying to maintain parity with respect to the capabilities of its camera.
First, let’s look at the numbers:
Below, I list the camera’s cost divided by the phone’s total cost, yielding the percentage of the total cost dedicated to the camera.
iPhone 3 camera: $7.00 / $164.00 = .0426 (specs: 2MP no video no flash. July 2008, but same camera specs as the original iPhone, released June 2007)
iPhone 3s camera: $9.55 / $171.46 = .0556 (3.2MP 30 fps video, autofocus. June 2009)
iPhone 4 camera: $9.75 / $187.51 = .0519 (5MP 30 fps 720 video, LED flash, autofocus)
iPhone 4s camera (8MP 30 fps 1080 video, autofocus, LED flash)
iPhone 4 $14/$156 = .0897
iPhone 4s $18/$203 = .0886
I don’t have cost data for the original iPhone, but we can see that the camera cost as a percentage of total component cost has ranged from 4.2% and 5.5% (this is for the main camera only). There is a sharp uptick between the original iPhone and the iPhone 3s, from 4.2% to 5.5%. This version introduced video, and we can see that the camera cost for the iPhone 4 drops back down to 5.1% Although I don’t have a comparable teardown figures for the iPhone 4s, a different company’s comparison of the iPhone 4 and 4s indicates that the camera cost for the 4s is less than it was for the 4 when measured as a percentage of total component costs.
My point with this analysis is to show that Apple is essentially picking whatever camera capability they can get within a fairly narrow price range, riding the technology curve that provides for increasing capability at essentially the same price. A look at the main camera’s specs compared with other high-end smart phones puts the iPhone slightly ahead of the recently released Galaxy S2, and equal to the Droid Razr.
Riding the technology curve allows Apple to know that it can focus on trying to make their camera do the things that they believe people are wanting to do with the camera; help casual photographers take good quality photos under a wide variety of lighting conditions.
This is why I stated that Apple is trying to maintain parity with its camera.