Google has been supporting external USB cameras in its mobile operating system, Android, since Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. This means that users have been able to plug a webcam into their phone or tablet for video calls for quite some time now. Third-party applications have also made it possible for users to connect their device to a computer and use it as a webcam, however, Google seems to be taking this a step further by incorporating this feature as an inbuilt feature of Android.
Mishaal Rahman, an Android expert, recently spotted code changes submitted to the AOSP Gerrit. These modifications indicate that Google is working on making the mobile device work as a webcam for PCs, Macs, or Chromebooks.
The new “DeviceAsWebcam” feature would allow the phone or tablet to recognise itself as a USB video device class, or UVC, which is the standard used by most USB webcams, making it compatible with majority of desktops and laptops. This is similar to what Apple did with its Continuity Camera, which allows iPhones to serve as webcams for Macs.
“Do note you’ll still need an app/service to send video data from the camera to the /dev/video* node for the host device to read from,” Rahman notes in one of his tweets. This app has to be a system app, which means that if Google does not create a generic Android-ready app, manufacturers will have to provide their own. The Camo app allows users to easily use their iOS or Android device as a webcam on a Windows or Mac computer.
Rahman adds, “The system property ‘ro.usb.uvc.enabled’ will be used to toggle UVC gadget functionality on Android devices. It’s only readable by system apps, and specifically the Settings app and USB gadget HAL will read it.”
Given that this has a similar name to the property used for USB mass storage mode, it’s possible that the system will let users quickly switch between PTP and MTP storage modes, USB tethering, MIDI, and ultimately this new webcam configuration using the alert that appears when you connect your phone to a computer.