How to Turn Your Old iPhone into a Surveillance Cam

The new Surveillance Camera for Mobiscope app lets you stream live video from one iOS device to another. The app mostly works as advertised, according to CIO.com blogger James A. Martin, but it's not without its quirks.

Got an old, but still usable, iPhone laying around? Need a surveillance camera for your home? There’s an app — actually, several — for that.

When I read about Surveillance Camera for Mobiscope, a new and free iOS app released Monday, I decided I’d use it to turn my old iPhone 3GS into a webcam.

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                                                (Image: Mobiscope)

Although the app worked as advertised, I ran into a hiccup along the way.

My old iPhone was still running an ancient version of iOS. To use Mobiscope’s surveillance app, I needed to update my 3GS to iOS 6.0 or higher. So I did — and then realized I’d bricked my old iPhone.

The reason: After the new OS install, I needed a SIM card to set up the device. But my iPhone 3GS had long ago shed its SIM card. And my current iPhone 5s SIM card isn’t compatible with the iPhone 3GS SIM card slot.

Undeterred, I walked to my local Radio Shack. I asked the store manager if by chance he had an old-school AT&T SIM card that would fit my iPhone 3GS. Of course he did, and he gave it to me free of charge (probably because I’m a regular).

At any rate, after inserting the SIM card and setting up my old iPhone, I installed the surveillance app, signed up for a free Mobiscope account and requested the free trial. (It’s unclear how long the free trial lasts.)

To use Mobiscope, you need two iOS apps: Surveillance Camera for Mobiscope, to turn one iOS device into a webcam; and Mobiscope – Mobile Video Surveillance and Cloud DVR, which you install on a second iOS device to watch what the other iOS device/webcam is recording.

After Mobiscope’s free trial ends, you must sign up for a monthly subscription, which costs between $10 (1 camera, 1 day of video archive) and $1,000 (4 cameras, 7 days of video archiving). Maybe it's just me, but $10 a month seems steep.

The Surveillance Camera app works well, though. To test it, I positioned my old iPhone toward my office window, facing the street, so the app could alert me when it detected motion. Then I took off for a walk.

I received periodic notifications on my iPhone 5s that my iPhone 3GS/webcam had detected motion. So far, so good. But when I opened the Mobiscope app on my iPhone 5s to view the video recording, I couldn’t easily find what had caused the motion detection. The blue/black playback bar isn’t intuitive enough, and Mobiscope’s FAQ page was of no help. I was able to see cars and people moving in the archival footage, but only by simply playing back the video at various points. The video stream was pretty good quality — as good as an old iPhone 3GS camera can get.

Mobiscope’s app is by no means your only option for turning an old mobile device into a security camera. Presence is free; requires iOS 5.0 or later; and has an overall user rating of 4.5 stars. Premium features, such as increased cloud video storage, are reasonably priced at $50 a year or $5 monthly.

The free iCamSpy Android app has a 4.4-star rating and offers some cool features such as audio and video surveillance. There’s a pro version for $2.68, but it’s unclear what it gets you in addition to the freemium features. Also, iCamSpy requires that you use a PC or Mac computer for monitoring your Android’s camera feed.

If you truly want a security camera, you’re probably better off investing in Dropcam, which costs $149 or $199 and requires a subscription of $100 (for seven days of saved recording) or $300 (for 30 days of saved recording) per year. Otherwise, Mobiscope’s free trial is a decent way to get an idea of what a home surveillance security camera might do for you.

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