Facial recognition is a decades old technology which has proven to never really work well on a phone in the past, but it is making a comeback, thanks to the new iPhone X. Apple have created a shiny new version of the technology that aims to pave the way for an easier to use, more secure biometric future.
Facial recognition has been around for years, commonly used for unlocking or paying with a device, and is already available in some phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S8. It typically hasn’t seen as much of a success and has been shown to be easily spoofed with something as simple as a photo of the owner’s face.
Generally the accuracy of facial recognition also depends on factors such as the quality of the image of your face at authentication time, light conditions, time between the enrollment image and verification, and visibility of obstructive objects like a scarf or sunglasses.
The difference between this old technology and Apple’s new version, called Face ID, is that it uses a suite of sensors to map your face in 3D. An infrared light illuminates your face, and a projector projects an array of infrared dots at it. An IR camera snaps an image of these dots, which the phone uses to authenticate you against an already-stored image of your face.
This introduction of 3D mapping means you can’t just hold up a picture anymore and expect it to do something. Apple also claims that Face ID will let the correct person into the phone whether it is light or dark, whether they have grown a beard or whether or not they are wearing sunglasses or a hat.
Apple believe that Face ID will be less subject to security issues than their current fingerprint sensor. The addition of facial recognition on the iPhone may lead to future phones with a greater breadth of biometric sensors. Iris scanning, for example, is another sensor that uses near-infrared illumination, which the iPhone X has.
Smartphones will eventually include sensors for face, iris, and fingerprint recognition. Fortunately the hardware comes at a reasonable price and if needs be the user can decide which they want to use, if not all three. But there is no reason as to why all three sensors can’t be in the mobile phone within the next few years.