Animoji may not require iPhone X’s TrueDepth sensor

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iPhone X Animoji
Animoji would work on other iPhones.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

You can’t enjoy Animoji unless you buy an iPhone X, but it’s apparently not because you need the device’s fancy hardware. It looks like Apple’s latest gimmick is powered at least partly by the handset’s front-facing camera rather than relying entirely on its advanced TrueDepth sensor.

iPhone X utilizes the special 3-D sensor array for Face ID, the facial recognition security system that replaced Touch ID. Coupled with an incredible biometric engine, TrueDepth’s 3-D mapping makes the system more sophisticated (and more secure) than rival platforms from the likes of Samsung.

While slightly goofy, Animoji — animated emojis that mimic the movements of the sender’s face — are one of the iPhone X’s most high-profile exclusive features.

Does Animoji require TrueDepth?

However, it doesn’t appear as if iPhone X needs that TrueDepth camera system to create Animoji.

YouTube star Marques Brownlee discovered during his iPhone X review that Animoji still seem to work when you cover up the phone’s 3D sensors. The feature didn’t stop working until he covered the phone’s front-facing camera.

See for yourself in the video below, around 11:40.

There’s no reason the feature shouldn’t work on other iPhone models if all it requires is a front-facing camera. It’s not as if Apple could blame a lack of processing power on other devices, since iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus use the same A11 Bionic chip as iPhone X.

Still, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. It seems that although TrueDepth isn’t used all the time when creating Animoji, it does play a crucial part.

“The IR system only (currently) fires periodically to create and update the depth mask,” explains iMore.

“The RGB camera has to capture persistently to track movements and match expressions. In other words, cover the IR system and the depth mask will simply stop updating and likely, over time, degrade. Cover the RGB, and the tracking and matching stops dead.”

Why is Animoji exclusive to iPhone X?

This is likely what makes Animoji’s facial tracking so accurate. But let’s face it, Apple could have brought a watered-down version to other iPhones without all that accuracy, and it would have been just as fun. Other applications use the camera alone and produce similar results.

Don’t be too disheartened, though. Animoji is fun for a few days, but most iPhone X owners would agree the novelty quickly wears off. No one will be talking about it in a few months.

  • dene22

    Those who write off Animoji as a gimmick are blinded by cynicism.

    • iHead

      It is fun and fresh, Animoji karaoke trending has proven it is not just a gimmick.

  • T_Will

    Just confirmed that covering up all sensors except the camera still allow animoji’s to work. Interesting, so they are mapping 50 facial muscles using just a 2D image, pretty amazing!

    • iHead

      No, you still need the True Depth. Read the article again.

    • T_Will

      I see, so it does sound like the use the IR sensors at some point.

      • iHead

        It needs it for the first time setup and periodically to rebuild the face structure. to save the battery and power. For second rated priority task like Animoji, a constant True Depth is not required.

  • Mac McIntire

    When you set up Face ID, it scans your face and stores the information. Couldn’t it be possible it’s using the front facing camera for Animoji but is comparing the 2D image to the stored 3D data to create the animation?