Apple may have banned selfie sticks at WWDC, but the company was today granted a patent revealing how future iPhones could be unlocked by snapping a quick photo of yourself.
Entitled “Low threshold face recognition,” the patent describes a means of “reducing the impact of lighting conditions and biometric distortions” that can negatively affect facial recognition for a solution which “can be implemented on camera-equipped consumer portable appliances” — presumably such as the iPhone and iPad, although the second-generation (camera-equipped) Apple Watch 2 wouldn’t be out of the question, either.
This isn’t the first time that Apple has explored the subject of facial recognition. Back in 2010, the company acquired Swedish face-recognition firm Polar Rose, which developed Facebook-style software applications able to recognize faces in images.
Apple has also been awarded a variety of patents in the area, and has incorporated more and more elements of facial recognition and detection into its products — such as Photo Booth, Photos and the camera software used for iOS devices.
Today’s patent could be used to improve all of these features, but it could also be used as a possible replacement or alternative to Touch ID, perhaps for a new form of two-step verification that asks for both fingerprints and an identifying selfie.
As Apple notes:
“In one aspect, the methods include processing a captured image of a face of a user seeking to access a resource by conforming a subset of the captured face image to a reference model. The reference model corresponds to a high information portion of human faces. The methods further include comparing the processed captured image to at least one target profile corresponding to a user associated with the resource, and selectively recognizing the user seeking access to the resource based on a result of said comparing.”
Android devices have had facial recognition unlocking for a number of years now, but it’s such an unreliable solution that most users barely use it. Facial recognition has advanced heavily in the last year, however — surpassing human recognition for the first time when it comes to taking two pictures and saying whether they show the same person.
Although there have been legal issues with the use of facial recognition apps in parts of the world like Europe, it’s good to see that Apple is still staying on top of things when it comes to the possibilities offered by different types of biometrics.
Even if the rumors we’ve heard about future iOS devices suggests Touch ID isn’t likely to disappear in a hurry.