The new iPhone is here, and it’s impossible to ignore. Between blunders during its unveiling, possible racial discrimination against the Arab world, and social media exploding with memes, it’s been too hard to tell whether Apple actually brought an innovative new technology to the market. We’re talking about Face ID, the facial recognition feature that unlocks the new iPhone X, which is in stores from November 3rd for €1189. So is it or isn’t it the new face of tech security?
iPhone X: “unlocking it is as easy as look at it”
The most important news that Apple released is without a doubt the iPhone X (or “ten), for the 10th anniversary of when Steve Jobs launched the first model. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple highlights, it’s also a way of looking forward to the next 10 years. And new features have indeed arrived: Apple has introduced augmented reality, machine learning and facial recognition.
We’re especially interested in this last one. How does it work? The front camera uses a 3D sensor to scan the lines in your face and unlock your iPhone, even in the dark. It’s called the True Depth Camera System, and it includes an infrared camera, dot projector, ambient light sensor and proximity sensors.
Yet many people doubt the security of this new system. Face ID only allows you to map one face per device, but it’s sensitive enough to prevent unlocking through photos or with your eyes closed, things that clearly aren’t working in Android models. Experts at Kaspersky, the leading cyber security company, confirm that it’s the most secure system ever integrated in a smartphone, and that the probability of tricking the Face ID system is one in a million, while Touch ID was more like one in 50 thousand.
Face ID fail: talk about losing face
We don’t know if Apple is still a step ahead of the rest, but starting with a huge faux pas broadcast live around the world definitely wasn’t the best way to show it. Because, yeah, in case anyone still didn’t know, the facial recognition system didn’t work during the launch event.
Live worldwide from Apple Park. A packed room. Craig Federighi, senior vice president of Apple’s software department was on the stage. His catchphrase to explain Face ID was “unlocking it is as easy as looking at it.” Then he looked at it and…nothing. It was like a stubborn kid at Christmas who didn’t get the gift he wanted – Apple’s pride and joy refused to cooperate. The internet, as always, went nuts with sarcasm and memes, but the Cupertino company defended itself.
The reason it happened was that several staff members backstage repeatedly tried to test it out. That iPhone was set up to only recognize Federighi, so after several failed attempts, it was blocked for security and required the PIN entered manually.
Was that really true? We’ll see once we get our hands on an iPhone X.
Problems ‘unveiling’ the technology
Even though it’s not in stores yet, the critics are already poised and ready. And this includes not just your everyday user, but also ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden. He’s citing overly invasive surveillance, problems with facial scanning and collecting sensitive data, and the risk of violations related to privacy or commercial gains.
And not only that, but the Arab world is at odds with Apple. It seems the iPhone X’s facial recognition discriminates against women wearing a niqab, or the full veil. Displeasure about this quickly led to an Arabic hashtag on social media #apple_bans_niqabs. Many users are up in arms about the discrimination, but yet again, there are people taking it a bit less seriously. Some are more concerned they won’t be able to unlock their phones with a clean face, because Face ID won’t recognize them without makeup!
Twins and lookalikes: anyone who looks like us can unlock our phone!
Technology developed, glitches found. No two people in the world have the same fingerprints, but there can be more than one with the same face. This includes identical twins and other lookalikes. How did Apple fail to consider this when they moved from Touch ID to Face ID?
Tim Cook admits that this problem hasn’t been resolved yet, so your identical twin could, in fact, unlock your phone pretty easily. The risk seems even more real for celebrities, since many of them have practically identical body doubles. And here too, social media has been having a ball: one of the many memes posted, for Game of Thrones fans, shows Jaquen H’ghar, the mysterious assassin who can change his face, unlocking everyone’s iPhone.
It’s too early to say whether Apple was visionary or if it’s losing it’s innovative touch. This technology is full of infinite possibilities, but it’s not yet ripe and the big brands are fully aware of that. But competition is so high that it favors speed of getting products to market over perfection. It’s a challenge, but they’ll need to be ready to lose a little (more) face.