One of the technology's industry's worst kept secrets, Apple Face ID on the high-end iPhoneX was unveiled a short while ago at Apple's latest hardware event. It replaces Touch ID fingerprint authentication with a 3D facial recognition technology that leverages IR, neural networks and machine learning.
It is a bold step and attempts to solve the problem in how to support biometric authentication on a bezel-less OLED display. Rumours were that Apple attempted to integrate a fingerprint sensor in the display but this didn't quite work out. 3D facial technology integrated into a camera module has solved this problem but the botched first attempt to demo unlocking the phone at the event leaves questions over its accuracy and performance. They do say never work with animals and live demos and this may be a glitch for the technology that is replacing a biometric authentication system that is quick and very friction-free.
Apple Pay and many other third-party services depend on accuracy and speed. If I am in a queue wanting to pay for my morning coffee I want it to work immediately. Indications from the Apple event point to Apple replacing a one-step fingerprint authentication process with a two-step look at the phone and swipe up process to unlock the phone.
It was very interesting that Apple stressed the multiple use for the 3D camera module and its ability to supercharge the Emoji experience - that will definitely sell a stack of phones. But is there a negative impact on the user experience for the authentication process? Time will only tell and Apple will have performed hundreds of hours of user experience tests on Face ID.
When Apple announced Touch ID in 2013 it revolutionised consumer biometric authentication and led to an explosion of fingerprint sensor integrated in almost all new smart phones. Will Face ID have a similar impact? Probably.
Samsung has gone the multi-modal route and still supports fingerprint authentication and I believe that many mobile OEMs will continue down this path - especially in the short-term. However, we will see Apple's competitors start to emulate 3D facial recognition technology to support other high-net worth applications, including augmented reality, and to enable full-display, bezel-free devices.
It is definitely not goodbye to mobile fingerprint authentication but there is definitely a new kid on the block and one that can support a wider range of non-security applications. It could also be ported to other devices especially in the growing IoT and AR/VR industries - but this does break the privacy and trust model of the biometric template never leaves the secure enclave.
These are my initial thoughts on the announcement and I hope to talk about them further in subsequent posts when I have time to reflect. See you.