Apple May Have Fudged iPhone X’s Face ID

Apple has reduced the accuracy of the iPhone X Face ID feature to speed up production, Bloomberg reported Monday.

It’s not clear how much the new specs will reduce Face ID’s efficacy, but if the reporting is accurate, there could be problems recognizing changes in facial hair, glasses and other ancillary features, suggested Gerrit Schneemann, senior analyst at IHS Markit.

“That would be a real problem,” he told TechNewsWorld.

The iPhone X doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner, and facial recognition is the only biometric unlock mechanism for a number of iPhone features, including Apple Pay, Schneemann pointed out.

Arch-competitor Samsung, on the other hand, “uses retina or facial recognition in combination with fingerprint recognition,” he noted.

If Face ID is less reliable or on par with the competition, “that would mean a win for competitors and a loss for Apple,” Schneemann suggested.

Fake News?

Bloomberg’s assertion that Apple has reduced the accuracy specs for Face ID “is completely false,” the company said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by Apple spokesperson Alex Kirschner.

“The quality and accuracy of Face ID haven’t changed,” the company maintained. “It continues to be [a] one in a million probability of a random person unlocking your iPhone with Face ID. We expect Face ID to be the new gold standard for facial authentication.”

Customer interest in the iPhone X and Face ID has been “incredible,” according to Apple, “and we can’t wait for customers to get their hands on it starting Friday November 3.”

The iPhone X will be available for pre-order this Friday and in stores on Nov. 3.

There have been indications that interest in the iPhone X has dampened sales of iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, which are already available.

The Face ID Story

Reports have been circulating for weeks about manufacturing issues with a part of the iPhone X’s facial recognition sensor — the part that projects the infrared dots to map faces. It uses a vertical cavity surface-emitting laser, or VCSEL, and is made of gallium arsenide. It beams light through a wafer-level optic lens.

Both the VCSEL and the lens must be made to very high tolerances and are fragile. Suppliers LG Innotek and Sharp reportedly have struggled to combine the laser and lens.

At one point, only about 20 percent of the dot projectors the two made were usable, although the usability rate is now about 50 percent, according to reports.

LG Innotek confirmed there was a problem with yield, that mass production had just begun, and that supply might be limited, Bloomberg reported.

Further, one of Apple’s laser suppliers — Finisar — reportedly failed to meet spec requirements in time for production and has been working to meet the standards by the end of this month.

Dot projector production problems could create a production bottleneck that would limit supply. That problem could be exacerbated by the predicted high demand for the iPhone 10.

Also, Apple reportedly has been contending with a lack of suppliers to make OLED displays, which deliver sharper images and are used in the iPhone X.

Customer demand for the iPhone X will not be met until at least the first half of next year due to supply constraints, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted last month.

The Impact of Face ID Issues

Problems with the Face ID technology may mean industry plans overall to move to a similar technology “are now pushed back well into 2018,” IHS’ Schneemann said. “Apple has priority in the supply chain.”

There are reports that Apple actually might welcome the delay in pushing out the iPhone X, because that might boost iPhone 8 sales.

However, “I think there’s significant demand for the iPhone X, and many users will be willing to get in line and take delivery when it becomes available,” Schneemann said.”For those users waiting to make the jump to iPhone X the iPhone 8 won’t be of interest anyway.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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