Review: iCam – Who knew watching your own stuff could be so fun? - Macenstein

Review: iCam – Who knew watching your own stuff could be so fun?

For iPhone owners, there are now hundreds of extremely cool applications capable of eliciting satisfying “oohhs” and “ahhhs” from jealous non-iPhone users, but iCam might just top them all.

Yes, if you’ve ever gotten into a heated debate with a blackberry or Pre owner about which phone has the coolest features, just wait until you show them how with the push of a button you can bring up a 4 camera, real-time security video display (with audio!) on your iPhone of your home, office, pool, or pretty much anywhere you can mount a camera.

Yes, iCam is an amazing app brought to my attention by faithful Macenstein reader iShervin, and I must say, even after many weeks of use I still find myself marveling at how well it works.


iCam is a two-part piece of software. The first part is the $4.99 iPhone app, and second part is the free iCamSource software which you must install on your computer in order to broadcast the video. Once installed, pretty much any computer with a built-in or 3rd party webcam (or even a standalone video camera) can be used to broadcast real-time video to your iPhone.

I first installed the software on a Mac mini I have in my living room connected to an old external FireWire iSight camera. Once launched, the iCamSource software will prompt you for a username and password of your choosing. iCam recommends you choose both a username and password that would be hard to guess (more on security in a bit) so I basically just chose a long, random sequence of numbers and letters for both. Next, I just entered that same username and password in the iCam iPhone app’s preferences, and I was done. Almost instantly I now had a live video stream of my living room. There was zero configuration needed as far as my routers went (my home setup is a wireless Airport hooked to a Verizon FiOS router, fyi). iCam claims for most people it is a “zero configuration” app, and that was certainly my experience.

Above: Tap a cam to bring it full screen with sound

Emboldened by my success, I next entered that same user information into a copy of iCamSource I had downloaded onto my MacBook Pro. BOOM! I now had two video feeds! Next, the wife’s MacBook. Boom! Three feeds! I grabbed my wife’s iPhone, and BOOM! now we were BOTH watching three live feeds of ourselves. Not since a brief jail stay in college have I ever felt so thoroughly monitored.

How does it work?

At first I was pretty sure iCam was magic, but I spoke with iCam’s developer and got a somewhat more rational explanation. Apparently what happens is the iCamSoucre software, once launched and running, sends out a constant stream of video to the iCam servers. These servers then wait for you to create a secure connection with your iPhone (or iPod touch) using a matching username/password combo. Security-phobic folks worried about someone hijacking their feed and being able to monitor their homes needn’t worry, however. Your login and password are never sent to our iCam Broker Server. Both iCam and the iCamSource use your login and password to generate a 40-character random-looking SHA-1 hash string, and that is what is actually sent to the server. So unless someone knows your username and password, you’re safe (which I suppose is the same as for your online banking, computer login, or any number of other secure computing tasks you likely perform each day). To read more about SHA Hash security, you can read up here,, but suffice it to say I am not worried about security (although I DO recommend you look into enabling remote wipe on your iPhone, just in case).


When you launch iCam on your iPhone, you are presented with a screen broken into 4 rectangular areas, each of which can display a different video source. Tapping on a source brings it up into a full screen view, and you will also hear the sound from that camera as well. Another tap sends the video scaling back to the grid view. The feeds work not only over WiFi, but 3G and even Edge connections (although frame rate gets much choppier via Edge, as you may imagine).

Above: PUSH notifications are AWESOME!

There are not a whole lot of settings on iCam. If you’d like, you can disable auto-lock on the iPhone, as well as enable auto-zoom so when you launch the app it immediately scales the first video source to a full screen video (useful if you only have one video source to monitor). But the coolest feature of iCam came with a recent update which enabled PUSH notifications when motion is detected. With this feature, iCam can be used as a very effective security monitoring system. (The PUSH notification is an additional 99¢ purchase, but well worth it).

Whenever your webcam detects motion (and sensitivity can be set) you will receive a notification on your iPhone, complete with sound and vibration alert, if you choose. There is also a time stamp, in case you leave the iPhone somewhere or miss the notification so you know when someone was in your home.

I tested this feature out while on vacation last week. We had friends coming over to feed our fish, and they didn’t know it, but I knew exactly when they entered our house, and I was even able to watch them in real time while on the beach. It’s really pretty cool, and yes, if they read this, odds are they won’t feed our fish next time.

The software works on both Mac and PC, and if for some reason you have not yet gotten an iPhone, you can still use the free iCam source app and view your feeds via a web browser on using iCam’s iCamWeb feature.
Other uses

Obviously this cam be used for purposes other than fish-feeding monitoring. Parents can uses it to monitor a babysitter, or use as a nanny cam while in another part of the house. You can leave it pointed at your pool if you are worried a child might stumble outside without you knowing, or outside if you’ve experienced vandalsim. Our office happens to be full of assholes (myself included) that like to mess with our co-workers’ computers when they go to the bathroom and such. I found iCam was a great way to make sure no one uses or moves your computer while you are out of the room.

Above: My old FireWire iSight is noticeably crappier than my MacBook Pro’s iSight


iCam really is a marvel, but I did find one fault with using it as a security system. I have timed the time it takes someone walking into the room to when my iPhone registered the PUSH notification at approximately 9-10 seconds. This is quite impressive, but not immediate. Add to that the time it may take to pick up your iPhone, unlock it, launch iCam, and wait 2-3 seconds for the feed to appear, and you may find yourself staring at an empty room. Sure, you know SOMEONE walked by, but not who. A great addition to the software would be for it to log clips or at least a series of still when it detects motion, and preferably e-mail them to you. iCam’s developers say that the feature is often requested, and they are looking into it, so hopefully it will happen in the near future.

A couple other very minor issues… If you have the app installed on more than 1 iPhone, and enable the Push notifications on one phone, BOTH phones will get the notification if motion is detected. It seems like there should be a way to differentiate devices, but I guess technically you are logging in to the same “account” with both devices, so I suppose it is understandable, but still a little annoying. Finally, I am not sure why anyone would NOT want the motion detection/PUSH notification feature, so iCam might was well just up the price to $5.99 and include it.


iCam is a very cool app which works flawlessly. For $4.99-$5.99 you can turn any MacBook or old iSight-equipped computer you might have lying around into a motion activated security camera. And as useful as the app is, it is even more fun to show to people without iPhones and then discuss the rash of recent break-ins you heard about in their area.

Price: $4.95 ($5.99 with PUSH Notification add-on)
Pros: Works flawlessly, zero router-configuration, supports up to 4 video feeds with sound, secure connection, motion activated PUSH notifications
Cons: Would be awesome if it could send stills or take video when motion was detected to make sure know who set off the alarm.

11 Responses to “Review: iCam – Who knew watching your own stuff could be so fun?”
  1. MacSheikh says:

    I just bought iCam based on your wise words alone (I know, how silly of me).

    But hey! It turned out to be exactly what I had been looking for. Simple to “set up”, easy to use, works flawlessly.

    Thanks, Doc! 🙂

  2. iShervin says:

    coolio, loveio, worksio nicio…. 😉

  3. Bob says:

    Also bought this program based on your review. It is definitely easy to set up! I love it!

  4. Roger says:

    I also just bought it

  5. Greenldr says:

    I’ve had iCam since the day it was released on the AppStore (almost 1-year). It has always worked flawlessly, and I use it to monitor the house every time we go on vacation. Highly recommended!

  6. Devin says:

    Push notifications, shmush shmotifications, that’s some fine Adam Hughes art. I’m rolling some Bawidamann right now.

    On topic? My girlfriend better not get this app.

  7. Scott says:

    Looks cool – but I would need a couple of wireless cameras to hit the areas I need. Anyone have any suggestions on wireless cameras that actually work?

  8. Scott says:

    I too bought it after reading the review and was blown away by the ease of set up! Great product!
    Now what do I do with my Slingbox that I was using with my DV camera….?

  9. imajoebob says:

    Pretty impressive. Great for a baby cam or garden cam when you’re preparing dinner. If the cradle can tie it into the TV you can just hit the input button to check on the baby or the garage if you hear a clunk.

  10. Craig says:

    What type of outdoor webcam would the group suggest for a mac? I would love to place the camera outside (preferably wireless)?? Any suggestions?

  11. Chuck says:

    What is the difference between iCam and iVid?

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