Apple is testing 3D facial scanning to unlock iPhone, authenticate payments

4 Jul 2017

Image: Artem Oleshko/Shutterstock

Latest Apple security feature will give a whole new meaning to ‘face’ time.

Apple is reportedly testing a new 3D facial scanning feature that will unlock your iPhone instead of using a fingerprint.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone going on sale and Apple no doubt has a few more things it wants to take from its pocket.

While there are the usual expectations of ramped-up processor speeds, battery life and improved camera, the special bag of tricks for the iPhone 8 – or iPhone X as it has been dubbed in some circles – is also expected to include augmented or mixed reality technology.

The new face of biometric security

There have been reports that the next iPhone device could come with a 3D sensor that uses facial scanning to unlock the device instead of fingerprints.

This biometric technology already exists in devices such as the latest Microsoft Surface Pro.

Apple certainly wants to avoid the same bad press that Samsung endured with its rival Galaxy S8, where it has been claimed that facial recognition scanning can be defeated with a single picture. Perhaps the hint is in the 3D nature of the proposed Apple technology – the new sensor is understood to have 3D depth perception, which means it cannot be duped by 2D pictures.

According to Bloomberg, Apple is also testing iris scanning to augment the system. Speed and accuracy are understood to be the focal points of Apple’s new technology and it is claimed that the chip can scan a user’s face and unlock an iPhone within a few hundred milliseconds.

While the feature is still being tested, it is questionable as to whether it will be ready in time for the next-generation iPhone to ship. Or, the technology could be already on the phone but may only be switched on in a later update, much like the bokeh effect feature that arrived with the iPhone 7 last year.

The thinking is that the facial recognition technology will ultimately replace the Touch ID function that debuted with the iPhone 5s in 2013.

Touch ID is an integral part of Apple’s security set-up, and key to not only securing the device but also in authenticating payments and app downloads.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years