Facial Recognition in Phones: Just another Bio-metric Security Feature or More?

Apple Inc. has a reputation of making the world take notice of its offerings. It started in 2007 with the launch of first iPhone by then CEO, Steve Jobs, and the saga continues even after a decade. In 2007, iPhone revolutionized the mobile industry and became a benchmark. Year after year, Apple continued raising the bar, with other mobile manufactures faintly responding to Apple’s offerings. Some manufacturers, however, did challenge its supremacy in the segment, but the Silicon Valley-based Company always found its way. In 2017, though, Apple seems to have out did itself with the launch of iPhone X. Pitted as the next thing in mobile technology, iPhone X is progressive in many ways. It caught nearly every smartphone maker off-guard, thanks to the quite a few firsts it offers not only for the company but also for the industry; from its edge-to-edge display to facial recognition functionality to unlock the device.

Facial Recognition Technology


Among the admirable features, interesting specifications, and a hefty price tag of the iPhone X, it is the use of facial recognition to unlock the device that has the world talking. It is not that Apple’s iPhone X is the first phone to introduce facial recognition technology, this technology has been around for a few years. Samsung was the pioneer in introducing facial recognition to its devices such as Samsung Galaxy S8, Note 8, and ill-fated Samsung Galaxy Note 7. However, the concept didn’t work as expected as it could easily be spoofed with something as simple as the photo of the phone owner’s face.

Apple Inc., thus, had its task cut out, to offer a more reliable version of facial recognition technology in its devices, and they delivered in style. The facial motion capture technology in iPhone X is quite different to the one on Android counterparts, and is known as Face ID.

Apple’s Face ID


Apple’s Face ID has been a work in progress for nearly four years. It began with the acquisition of PrimeSense, the company who licensed the Kinect technology to Microsoft in 2013 and continued with acquisition of Faceshift, the company with specialization in facial motion capture in 2015. Four years of rigorous development and testing resulted in Face ID, an advanced version of facial recognition that uses a suite of sensors to accurately map faces in 3D and then recognize the face in an instant to unlock the phone.

The Face ID on the iPhone X uses a ‘TrueDepth’ camera system, made up of a dot projector that blasts over 30,000 infrared dots on the users’ face, an infrared camera, and flood illuminator to scan the face in 3D. The infrared image and dot patterns, thus, captured are pushed through neural networks to develop a mathematically accurate model of the face. The data is then sent into a secure enclave on the device. Thus, the process of confirming a match is performed on the device and not in cloud, ensuring better security.

Also, Apple claims that its Face ID feature is so secure that there’s a one in a million chance that someone could spoof it.

History of Face Recognition


Although people are only talking about facial recognition technology after it made its debut in mobile devices, the technology has been around for quite a while. Here’s a sneak peak of its evolution.

The Humble Beginning

Many believe, Woodrow Wilson Bledsoe, to be the father of facial recognition. In 1960s, Bledsoe developed a system that could help manually record the coordinates of different facial features including the eyes, mouth, hairline, and nose. The accuracy of manual facial recognition system increased in the 1970s, thanks to the 21 specific subjective facial markers, including lip thickness and hair color. In the late 1980s and early 1990s linear algebra was used to accurately code a normalized face image.

The Commercial Expansion

In 1993, facial recognition technology got a big push when DARPA and NIST rolled out FERET for commercial use with a database of 2,413 high-resolution 24-bit color still facial images of 856 people. The first major test of the technology was at 2002 Super Bowl when law enforcement officials detected several “petty criminals”, though overall the test was seen as a failure. The reason for its failure was technological limitation of not being effective in large crowds. After several improvements and tests such as FRVT and creation of a forensic database with archives of DHSMV, facial recognition technology was used to confirm the identity of Osama Bin Laden after he was killed in a U.S. raid in 2011.

The Present

Facial recognition has further improved to be adopted in various sectors including retail and mobile. While implementation of face recognition in mobiles is well-illustrated earlier in the blog, the retail market too seem to have taken a liking to the technology for security and theft prevention with studies expecting it to be the fastest growing market with 23.86 percent annual growth rate during 2016-2022.

Even social media giant, Facebook uses facial recognition functionality to identify people featuring in the photos posted by users frequently. It started in 2010 and has continued to fascinate its more than two billion users who post over 350 million photos while tagging their friends.

The Future

In addition, Facebook acquired FacioMetrics – a software that analyses a person’s facial features and expressions – this year(2017), which is believed to help Facebook better its filters, stickers and sliders for multimedia. Some critics have went on to suggest that Facebook might use the software to measure its users’ reaction to comments or posts by reading their expressions and blinks when they are viewing it.

With the tech world growing at a rapid pace, we may see greater instance of facial recognition technology and 3D face mapping on Android phones, especially with Qualcomm and Huawei targeting facial recognition functionality in their new launches over the coming years. Qualcomm’s new chipset, for instance, possesses active depth-sensing and supports IR sensors for face-mapping, while Huawei’s Honor View 10 smartphone may duplicate Apple’s ‘Animoji’.

Ending Notes


Experts seem to be divided on the success of Face ID. Some believe it will suffer the same fate as Android’s facial recognition technology but others believe that it to be revolutionary. The criticisms surrounding Apple’s Face ID is due to the concerns about invasion of privacy that facial recognition may bring. Though, Apple is believed to have taken steps to protect user information. There are reports about iPhone X being unlocked by relatives and colleagues of the user, it is still early days to predict the fate of the device and the technology.

Have you experienced anything noteworthy with Iphone X, yet? Let us know!

Until next time!

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