Why Apple's M2 iPad Pros don't have a landscape FaceTime camera
The answer is pretty simple.
Apple threw a little party yesterday, announcing new M2 iPad Pros in 11- and 12.9-inch versions, a redesigned 10th-generation iPad, and two models of the Apple TV 4K.
As they always do, the new iPads look great on their own, but zoom out and take a look at Apple's family of iPads, and questions start to pop up. The big one everyone is asking: Why does the new 10th-generation iPad have a landscape FaceTime camera while the premium M2 iPad Pros are stuck with a vertical front-facing camera?
It's not because Apple is purposely withholding the feature from M2 iPad Pro users. The answer is actually really simple — it involves the Apple Pencil.
Why iPad Pro users are upset
Product design is all about tradeoffs. On devices, it usually comes down to the physical constraints of their volume. You may be looking at the 10th-generation iPad and the M2 iPad Pros and see puzzling design choices. It doesn't make sense that Apple's most expensive iPads (starting at $799 M2 11-inch iPad Pro / $1,099 12.9-inch iPad Pro) do not have the webcam in landscape position, but the new $449 10th-generation iPad does.
I saw an unusually vocal number of my Twitter followers enraged by this decision. I'm personally not that upset, but I understand where they're coming from. If you're an iPad Pro user, there's a good chance you mostly use it in landscape orientation — likely with a keyboard accessory such as Apple's very good Magic Keyboard — and probably for video calls on Zoom or FaceTime. The issue with the iPad Pro's webcam is that it's positioned on the left when the tablet is horizontal. This is not a new problem as Apple has mostly marketed the iPad as a device intended for use in vertical orientation, thus the webcam would be on the top and not the side.
You could hold your iPad vertically for video calls, but then it wouldn't fit any keyboard accessories designed for landscape use. Taking video calls while your iPad is horizontal means the webcam is awkwardly pointed at the side of your face and not directly in front of you — you know, so it looks like you're not actually looking at the other person, but to their side.
This iPad design "flaw" is one that Microsoft (and other non-Apple 2-in-1 tablet/laptop makers) have been poking fun at for the past decade and touting as a prime reason to buy their tablets instead. As Apple has made iPadOS more desktop-like with more multitasking features, the iPad's slowly morphed from being an enlarged iPhone into more of a laptop replacement.
The fact that Apple moved the front-facing camera to be situated on the top bezel when the 10th-generation iPad is in landscape position is proof that this is the "correct" place for it. Okay, if that's the case, then why do Apple's top-of-the-line M2 iPad Pros not have this new landscape webcam?
Put simply: there is no room to fit the webcam into the iPad Pro's bezel (right when positioned vertically, top when held horizontally). On M2 iPad Pros (and the iPad Air and iPad mini), the side houses a magnetic connector for attaching and charging up a second-generation Apple Pencil. This component is literally in the space where the webcam is located on the 10th-generation iPad.
This also explains why the 10th-generation iPad works with the first-generation Apple Pencil — and charges with a silly $9 USB-C-to-Lightning adapter sold separately — and not the second-generation Apple Pencil; Apple could only fit either a landscape webcam or the magnetic charger, and it chose the camera.
I realize "there's no space" is not going to be a satisfying answer to many people, but that’s just reality. If you look at X-ray images of the second-generation Apple Pencil and teardowns of iPads that have the magnetic connector, you'll see that the electromagnetic charger for the Apple Pencil is located in its center and the magnetic connector in the middle of the iPad's bezel. There's no way to properly align the second-gen Apple Pencil on the 10th-gen iPad if Apple moved the magnetic charger to the left or right of the horizontal webcam. Moving the electromagnetic charger inside of the Apple Pencil wouldn't have been possible, either, as it'd break alignment for non-10th-generation iPads.
Why not move the Apple Pencil magnetic connector to the left (vertical) / right (horizontal) bezel? That's a possibility, but very un-Apple-like. If you have an iPad attached to a Magic Keyboard, you would not be able to close the duo up with the Apple Pencil clipped to the bottom bezel.
So you see, Apple has designed itself into a corner. Could Apple redesign its iPad Pro, Air, and mini lineup to accommodate a horizontal webcam and a new updated Apple Pencil (third-generation)? Of course it could, but people — especially older iPad users — would find reasons to be mad. At the end of the day, product design is all about tradeoffs. There's no way to please everyone.