As the Silicon Valley high-tech giants tinkering with innovation, one of the biggest features of Google and Samsung's new Galaxy Nexus phone is its face unlock feature: using the device's front-facing camera, users can unlock their phones just by showing it their faces.
With the latest developments marking new entrants, according to Apple Insider blog, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week publishes patent application (PDF) filed by Apple in June 2010 detailing Cupertino's technology to offer “low-computational” face recognition capabilities, while new rumors surface of two iPad 3 models.
Taking a fast-forward step now, however, it looks like iOS users with a forward-facing camera device would be able to tailor their profile with personalized wallpaper, apps and settings, and access this profile when the device recognizes their face. The application covers “methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs” to provide “reasonably effective (low threshold) face recognition.” While images from the application appear to focus on the technology's use in iOS devices, it could certainly be adapted for Apple's computers as well.
However, as explained in a recently discovered patent, Apple's program would sense when a user is approaching the device (see image below) for example, if it is seated in a dock, and the user walks toward it. The device would then use its image processor to execute facial recognition to unlock the device, all with low battery penalties. If the device is used for business applications, higher security levels could even be set.
Apple's method would use a “weighted difference” map instead of a computationally “expensive” method called correlation mapping, according to Patently Apple, which first reported on the patent.
Apple's patent diagram showing off low threshold facial recognition. (Credit: USPTO)
A flow chart (shown below) also enclosed in the application describes the process by which the technology will recognize users' faces. The software will check a number of factors, including skin tone, and perform a simple comparison with stored profile photos.
Future iOS devices could be unlocked by your face, and not fooled by still photos. Image: Patently Apple
Though one thing is worth pointing out is that Apple already employs a face detection feature (which is not the same thing as recognition) on its latest smartphone, the iPhone 4S. That said, it is at least possible that we will see some sort of face recognition technology in next year's iPhone.