Apple surprised people by warning that “exposure to vibrations, like those generated by high-powered motorcycle engines” can damage iPhone cameras. There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, and it can affect Android devices, too.
It’s easy to make the iPhone the butt of a joke—and Apple didn’t do themselves any favors—but this is a legitimate issue. It all revolves around optical image stabilization (OIS), which is a feature found in many modern smartphones, not just iPhones.
What Is Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)?
Optimal image stabilization is a feature that aims to stabilize the camera while you snap a photo or record a video.
A camera with OIS has a tiny internal motor inside that physically moves the elements inside the lens. As your hands slightly move or shake while holding the phone, the motors counteract your motion. This results in a smoother video and less blur in photos.
OIS can make a huge difference in photo and video quality. It’s nearly impossible to hold a phone perfectly still with only your hands. The mechanisms that make this possible inside an iPhone or Android camera are remarkably small and delicate. That’s where the risk of damage from vibrations comes into play.
How Can Vibration Damage a Camera?
Moving parts are what often lead to failures, especially when it comes to gadgets. A smartphone camera with OIS has several small moving parts inside it, and those parts are delicate. Enough stress on those parts can cause them to fail.
The OIS components need to be free to move around to counteract your movements, which means they aren’t permanently affixed in place. So when you strap the phone to something like a motorcycle, the vibrations can literally shake the camera parts. That repeated movement wears on the camera over time.
This is not something most people need to worry too much about. You’re not going to damage the camera by keeping it in your pocket while running. The vibrations to worry about are from high-power, high-volume engines, like the aforementioned motorcycles.
What Can I Do to Avoid Damage?
The main thing to avoid is extended exposure to these high-amplitude vibrations. Strapping your iPhone or Android device to a motorcycle for a short trip once in a while is probably fine. If you’re doing it twice a day for your 30-minute commute, that’s a bigger risk.
Apple recommends using a “vibration dampening mount” if you need to strap your phone to a motorcycle or other high-power vehicle. “Quad Lock” is one brand that offers a vibration dampener accessory for their line of mounts.
For Motorcycles, Bikes, and Cars
At the end of the day, this is just not something most people need to be too concerned about, but it is good to know why it happens. Fancy technology is not without its downsides. You’ll think a little differently about image stabilization now.