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Over 1 billion smartphones to feature facial recognition by 2020: Counterpoint

Even as facial recognition becomes mainstream, it is unlikely to kill traditional fingerprint sensors.

  • Published: February 8, 2018 1:28 PM IST
iphone x face id

Apple set a consumer trend with its Touch ID which was announced in 2013, and now it is likely to repeat history following the introduction of Face ID. An increasing number of smartphones will be equipped with the new industry fad according to analysts.

In its latest report, Counterpoint Technology Market Research predicts that by 2020, over one billion smartphones will feature some form of face unlock solution. This could be a standalone facial identification feature or a combination of face and iris scanning as we have seen on the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.

According to researchers, whether or not Apple permanently ditches the fingerprint-based Touch ID for the contactless Face ID, rivals are expected to adopt similar technology in 2018. This will make facial recognition technology an industry standard for unlocking phones and gradually eliminate the traditional fingerprint sensors.

If we look at the current facial recognition systems, the one on the Apple iPhone X makes use of a 3D depth mapping technique using multiple sensors to authenticate. Samsung uses 2D recognition coupled with an iris scanning. OnePlus 5T, on the other hand, uses only 2D facial recognition mechanism. Counterpoint analysts believe that going forward smartphone OEMs will opt for 2D or 3D facial recognition techniques depending on the pricing of their product.

According to Counterpoint’s estimates, more than one billion smartphones are likely to ship with facial recognition in 2020. Of these, Apple and Samsung smartphones will evidently be the torchbearers, with Chinese makers Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Huawei following suite.

It is worth mentioning that the premium-only facial recognition technology will trickle to the lower price bands faster than other such feature. Counterpoint Senior Analyst, Pavel Naiya, said, “The diffusion of facial recognition technology into lower tier price bands will be faster than any other flagship feature due to 2D facial recognition being native on the Android platform. However, according to our estimates, close to 60 percent of all smartphones with facial recognition, will use 3D technology in 2020. Data collected from multiple 3D sensors will assist emerging technologies like Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence to widen their use cases.”

Naiya further suggested that the fusion of sensors will become more relevant than before, and will open new partnerships between OEMs and chipset makers. He said, “We believe, new platform players will evolve in the smartphone component ecosystem by leveraging machine learning, data processing and sensor data to provide unique features in the latest smartphones.”

While the growth of facial recognition tools is inevitable, is it really a convenient way of unlocking a device? Peter Richardson, Research Director at Counterpoint Research stressed, “Face ID may not be the most convenient way to unlock a phone under all situations, it is well-suited for applications that require higher security, such as mobile payments, and where speed is not necessarily of the essence. In such cases, consumers may be happy to wait longer, say 2-3 seconds, in return for a much higher level of security, such as when purchasing an expensive item using their phone.”

The sheer convenience a regular fingerprint sensor offers is unlikely to be overpowered by the new-age facial recognition tools. Imagine walking through a busy street where you have to unlock your large screen smartphone. In such a case, a fingerprint sensor is a more convenient option than holding the phone at a certain distance, and ensuring there is enough light to 3D map the face to unlock. The research believes that despite the trend towards contactless authentication during the past few months, predominantly to accommodate larger screens, the fingerprint sensor is far from dead.

Meanwhile, Face ID will have a wider application beyond just authentication, according to the research. These are likely to include augmented reality and other applications which require accurate and sophisticated 3D sensing technology. In addition to that, with the use of AI-based machine learning algorithms, the existing technology can be improved to become the real alternative to Face ID for unlocking phones and overcome the drawbacks of 2D face recognition.

Lastly, the firm expects that mobile devices will combine biometric sensors for the face, iris, voice, and fingerprints to build a comprehensive biometric system that places each biometric sensor layer on top of each other. The choice of authentication will be made on application by application basis. So consider finance apps requiring iris scanning while photos requiring fingerprint sensing, and so on.

Counterpoint Research Director, Neil Shah further estimates in 2018 all leading handset manufacturers to launch flagship handsets with facial recognition capability. “Some will also be inspired by Apple’s ‘notch’ design, though this won’t be necessary in every case to deliver the face recognition technology – it will be more of a fashion statement,” he said. “In addition to flagship products, we expect 2D face recognition will find its way into mid-range products from leading Chinese handset brands,” he further added.

  • Published Date: February 8, 2018 1:28 PM IST