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Apple touts iPhone 12 as cinematic drone cam at launch

You already know it: The iPhone 12 would come with cool new features. But did it ever cross your mind that Apple might suggest it could be mounted on a drone? It didn’t cross our minds either. But today, at its iPhone launch event, Apple did precisely that: It showed an iPhone 12… on a drone.

What?!?! An iPhone 12 on a drone? Yes. At one point in its video presentation, Apple showed the iPhone mounted on an FPV drone. Why would it want to do that? Apparently, Apple feels the specs on its latest iPhone are good enough to rival some of the other action cameras that people have been placing on Cine-Whoop style drones. And, when looking at the specs, it’s hard to disagree. The new iPhone, of course, shoots 4K at 24fps, 30fps, and 60fps. It has built-in stabilization, Slo-mo video of 240 fps at 1080p, plus it’s rocking a new A14 bionic chip, which has 11.8 billion transistors squeezed into that impossibly tiny IC for even more computing power than the iPhone 11. Plus, it’s a 12. It has to be better, right?

Right. Good enough, in fact, that Apple believes you could mount this on a drone instead of say, a GoPro or other action camera. And so it did, showing an iPhone 12 in flight on a stripped-down FPV drone that was also using what appears to the the DJI Digital FPV system.

A frame grab from Apple’s video presentation. Note the DJI appearance as the FPV cam!


At first, we thought this was maybe a little bit over the top. Because would you really want to place a phone that starts at $699 (for the iPhone 12 Mini) on a drone? Isn’t that just courting disaster? And what about the weight — the trend seems to be to keep things as light as possible. In fact, many are stripping down their GoPros or other action cams in order to save weight. Would you want to be adding something that weighs a minimum of 135 grams? And what about dust or water? Looks like Apple was filming in a dusty location. Just check out the video:

Meet the new iPhone 12…err, drone camera

Well, the iPhone 12 has an Ingress Protection factor of IP68, meaning you could drop your drone into a lake up to 6 meters deep and for up to 30 minutes before your phone will run into problems. (Your drone, of course, would likely be toast.) Plus, the new iPhone 12s are said to be more drop-proof than the iPhone 11, so hopefully you’ve got some protection there. But still…

The iPhone 12

iPhone 12 pro — new sensor!

Though they didn’t point it out in terms of drone usage, the iPhone 12 Pro line comes with a LiDAR sensor. This Light Detection and Ranging sensor is capable of digitally scanning the environment and saving those scans as a series of tightly clustered points in three dimensions. In fact, LiDAR scanning is a very big deal in the drone world, especially once you’re into the Enterprise/Industrial applications. LiDAR units are also usually very expensive, costing thousands of dollars for a unit you can mount on a drone.

The iPhone 12 Pro model comes with LiDAR..!

And now… you could purchase a LiDAR unit, built into the iPhone 12 Pro, starting at $999. And that opens up a whole world of possibilities. You wouldn’t want to fly it fast on an FPV drone, but if it was mounted on a slower-flying machine, where you can take your time sampling, this could be a pretty incredible option. (Now, I’m not a LiDAR expert and don’t have the data to compare the iPhone 12 Pro’s LiDAR with other commercially available sensors, but undoubtedly this will be a fit for someone.)

Will it catch on?

So Apple has tossed out the idea. Will it catch on? Will some people start mounting iPhone 12s and iPhone 12 Pros on drones?

Maybe. In fact, it’s likely that some people will do this just to test out the concept. Without seeing how well the stabilization feature works in an actual buzzing drone, it’s difficult to say. But the phone also has Dolby Vision, which Apple says no other camera is capable of shooting at the moment. We’ll have to see some comparison footage to know.

Dusty DJI goggles dude puts the iPhone 12 to the test… as a drone camera

That being said, we doubt this will become a trend. For starters, action cameras are pretty good these days. You can get excellent footage with a GoPro, Osmo, Insta360, or other camera. Plus, people are really attached to their phones in a way they are not attached to an action cam. If you have a crash and your action cam needs repair or replacement, it’s not a massive inconvenience. Lose your phone? That’s a pain in the butt.


Of course, the new iPhone 12s are 5G capable. This is the window, finally, to that eventual world where the phone can handle a massive real-time data stream. This potential undoubtedly has implications for drones that will come into play down the road, once we begin seeing common urban 5G penetration.

That’s not going to happen for a bit. And neither, we think, are iPhones going to replace action cams on drones anytime soon.