If rumours are anything to go by, Apple is looking use a face-unlocking technology to replace its fingerprint reader. The move would mark a major shift away from Touch ID, a mainstay in Apple phones since the introduction of the 5S, back in late-2013.
It is quite possible that Apple’s primary interest in 3D sensing could be part of its AR startegy. Tim Cook has been super bullish on the technology for a while (even seemingly brushing aside VR in favour of it), and at WWDC, Apple made a big splash with its ARKit development platform. More on-board 3D hardware could really give the platform and even bigger boost, but face scanning is another great application for the technology.
Apple recently was awarded a patent covering the detection of human faces in digital video feeds by leveraging depth map information, technology which ignited the rumour that it could be a building block of a face-based bio-recognition system rumored to debut with this year’s iPhone. The patent describes an offshoot of computer vision technology that applies specialized hardware and software systems to object recognition tasks, specifically those involving human faces.
Apple is almost certainly looking to do something radical with its 10th anniversary phone — something considerably larger than the 7’s move from a mechanical to a haptic button. Most recent speculation has the company moving toward an (nearly) all-display design, and moving away from a fingerprint reader goes a ways toward heading in that direction.
The 3D sensing aspect would also help improve the technology over many existing solutions, and we’ve been hearing tell that infrared modules are coming to the iPhone for a while now — possibly showing up in the next model. Moving toward a technology that doesn’t rely on visible light could help Apple combat the problem many current solutions have in low light.
Building the technology on 3D scanning would make it harder to spoof than a 2D solution, but even still, a feature tied this closely to payment authentication isn’t something Apple is going to want to rush to market. At very least, it could make sense for the company to keep Touch ID around for a generation as it irons any issues with the new technology.