Apple said to be exploring face scanning technology for the iPhone

According to freshly-minted rumors posted by Bloomberg, Apple is looking to do away with the iPhone’s tried-and-true fingerprint reader altogether, in favor of face-unlocking technology. 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.

The combination Touch ID/home button has been the source of a lot of speculation leading up to the iPhone 8’s release later this year. Previous rumors saw the company moving to a behind-the-screen haptic version, along the lines of what Samsung introduced with the Galaxy S8 earlier this year — something that seemed to be backed up by recently unearthed patent grants (though patents are a pretty spotty source for new features).

KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who tends to have a pretty good track record with these sorts of things, noted the presence of “3D sensing for facial recognition” among the suspected additions to the phone in a report released back in March. That, in turn, lines up with a spate of rumors wherein Apple is buying up a ton of 3D cameras for devices — not to mention the fact that it picked up 3D sensor company PrimeSense back in 2013.

Of course, Apple’s primary interest in 3D sensing could be that whole big AR push. Tim Cook has been super bullish on the technology for a while (even seemingly brushing aside VR in favor 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 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.

The latest rumor notes that the face scanning technology is “still being tested and may not appear with the new device.” While the pieces of the technology have been falling into place for a number of years now, Apple needs to get the feature just right if it’s going to ship it. The company’s been through the ringer a few times with antennagate and bendgate, though nothing to the degree of what Samsung experienced last year with the Note 7.  

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.

We’ve reached out Apple for comment on this latest rumor.