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Face ID: Face recognition and authentication could very well go mainstream in 2018

The ability to track expressions go beyond animated emojis and authentication. That's case enough for it to be a mainstream feature.

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Highlights

  • Apple iPhone X boasts the ability to track expressions.

  • Likes of OnePlus 5T hold potential to implement similar features.

  • Expressions can help enrich online conversations.

When Apple launched the iPhone X earlier this year, one thing was clear. Whether or not it managed to sell volumes, what it accomplished through that notch was indicative of a potential revolution in man-machine interface. On the surface of it, it seems like a fingerprint does a better job, is more ergonomic and convenient, and that animojis are such a base level feature. And that there rather be something better bigger more jaw dropping than that from Apple’s tenth anniversary flagship device.

You’re not wrong if you feel the same way. For a bit I felt that myself. In my opinion, 2017 belonged to Samsung. They’ve managed to make edge-to-edge displays the new default. What used to be restricted to the Galaxy Note series of smartphones is now an industry de facto. Here’s why I think there’s much to be hopeful about face authentication.

The real companion for augmented reality

In case you didn’t see that coming, just ponder for a bit. You’ve heard so much about ARKit and ARCore by Apple and Google, respectively. Several tech companies are turning their attention to the larger objective of enabling newer ways for users to interface with machines and computers. It probably first began with rudimentary execution of augmented reality (AR), then some flirting around with virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality in the form of Microsoft Hololens.

But as we began this year, we were hearing more about augmented reality. Earlier we suspected Apple was launching an AR headset. We’d even seen some patent applications around it. But then WWDC happened and we saw a demo of ARKit with iOS 11. As is normally the case with most tech demos, you have a limited bouquet of use cases that are showcased. From gaming to measuring dimensions, the examples were curious enough to warrant some attention.

A few months later, the new iPhones were available in the market. The App Store had a new category for ARKit apps. Brands such as Ikea were showcasing new apps implementing ARKit that had the potential to change the way we shop online. It’s a different story that we don’t have Ikea in India just yet. It’s coming soon, but it still isn’t a mainstream thought or the reason to adapt a new platform.

But being able to take real-time decisions about furniture or home decor without leaving the comfort of your bed is a joy like none other. That’s the power of AR. And coupled with the potential of millions of devices across the globe boosts the potential of this technology like no other. I wasn’t surprised then that not too long after Apple’s demo, Google announced ARCore with similar capabilities. The only thing that hurts Android though is device fragmentation.

The real advantage of Face ID and that notch

Nothing beats human expression. And if we put some thought into possibilities with ARKit, and the fact that you could now capture human expressions on a smartphone it’s an impressive combination. What Mark Zuckerberg has been showcasing on stage for years now, suddenly becomes a practical reality. Messaging apps can now capture your emotion, without really cluttering the network by broadcasting video.

The advantage of this is the ability to add human expression to a conversation even in a network that can’t handle realtime streaming. As compression techniques get more effective in real-time conversations, we might just get better messaging experiences in real time. Just a matter of time till services such as WhatsApp allow you to add your voice to your emojis. But what it needs before that to happen is the capability of devices being able to read your expressions.

That’s becoming a reality

The new OnePlus 5T is an example of how a device can accomplish on a software level what Apple did with hardware addition. Now Face ID has its advantages. It can implement machine learning to track you despite modifications to your face such as facial hair, props, accessories and head gear. Bringing in the prowess of machine learning ensures that you’re able to interact with it irrespective of lighting conditions, and modifications to your outlook.

the default OS keyboard could briefly access your device camera to capture your expressions

Coming back to the OnePlus 5T, the addition of face authentication or Face Unlock as the company calls it, indicates that if Android OEMs just get their act together and implement these features into the OS, you can soon tap into any app and integrate these features across use cases. So whether it is WhatsApp you’re using or any other app, the default OS keyboard could briefly access your device camera to capture your expressions and include them as animated emojis. This is a possibility that could go into AR apps as well.

The other BBK company, Oppo, has also implemented a similar feature in the Oppo F5 as well. Although still pretty much restricted to unlock, I believe the potential in both these cases are open ended. It could go as far as innovation and ingenuity could take it. A couple of months ago, Counterpoint Research released a report that said a billion smartphones with fingerprint authentication would be shipped in 2018. That’s a huge number. So what happens to fingerprint and face unlock?

During a conversation with Tarun Pathak, Associate Director at Counterpoint Research, we touched upon the new trend of face unlock and Face ID. He had a very interesting point to add. Despite the widespread attention that face recognition enjoys, “Fingerprint will likely be the default choice as it will make its way to entry level phones in 2018.” What that means is fingerprint will grow to areas in lower end devices where it currently isn’t present. While Face ID just made a start, it would begin a transformation over the next couple of year. Pathak believes that over the next 2-3 years, Face ID could see popularity similar to fingerprint.

It’s minor modifications such as these that could add a whole new element to the conversations – human emotion and expressions. After all, isn’t that what all conversations are supposed to be? And they’re better than video calls as well. It’s all the fun, minus the intrusion of a camera. The best of both worlds made possible by sheer innovation. As it reaches mid range phones in a couple of years, I’m convinced that flagship devices would consider face unlock a default feature through 2018.

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  • Published Date: November 28, 2017 11:17 AM IST