Apple’s ‘Center Stage’ camera follow feature is here to stay – quit hiding

CentreStage on iPad Pro 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple iPad Pro 2021, which was officially unveiled today (April 20) at the Apple event, has a new 12MP TrueDepth front-facing camera that can automatically pan and zoom when you're on a video call, making sure you're always in the center of the frame when making video calls.

The feature, which is known as Center Stage, uses the camera's 122-degree field of view, along with the machine learning capabilities provided by the M1 chip, to recognize people in the frame and keep them in view, even when they're moving around during the call.

A similar feature can already be found in the Amazon Echo Show 10, the Facebook Portal, and some Motorola smartphones, which support the Ready For multitasking mode that allows you to connect the phone to a monitor and access a range of functions including improved video calling.

It's clear cameras that automatically pan and zoom are becoming a trend but are they really that useful or a creepy feature that's just another way for your gadgets to follow your every move?

Skeptical at first...

I'll admit that I was skeptical about how well cameras that follow you around the room actually do the job. Like most of us, the number of video calls I make has increased since the global pandemic, as it's a great way of staying in touch with loved ones when you can't meet face-to-face.

But that means I've also experienced the pitfalls of video calls – the awkward pauses, instances of talking over each other,  forgetting to unmute yourself when talking, and poor internet connections causing the screen to freeze. Surely automatic panning and zooming would just add to the headache? I  expected a juddery movement that just made the experience worse for everyone on the call.

However, when using the Amazon Echo Show 10 for video calls, in which the whole display rotates as well as the camera panning and zooming, I was pleasantly surprised. The movement of the camera panning and zooming was smooth and gentle, and while the camera re-positioned when we made large movements, such as walking across the room, it didn't move to accommodate small movements such as tilting our head or stretching our arm, ensuring the recipient of the video call didn't feel they were in the middle of an action movie.

On top of that, when one person walked off during the call, the camera didn’t follow as the other person was still talking – it kept the remaining caller in the center of the frame.

I have high hopes that Apple's TrueDepth camera can match, if not exceed, the smoothness of the camera on the Echo Show 10. For some this may err on the side of creepy, but in my eyes, the experience certainly outweighed any issues I had with a camera following me, so it's a feature I'll be glad to use – in fact, I can't wait to see if it's introduced on the iPhone 13.

Carrie-Ann Skinner

Carrie-Ann Skinner was formerly Homes Editor at TechRadar, and has more than two decades of experience in both online and print journalism, with 13 years of that spent covering all-things tech. Carrie specializes in smart home devices such as smart plugs and smart lights, as well as large and small appliances including vacuum cleaners, air fryers, stand mixers, and coffee machines. Carrie is now a copy editor at PWC.