Despite multiple months of flip-flopping and seemingly deciding on an integrated home button, Apple now plans to ship no Touch ID sensor on its upcoming high-end iPhone 8, according to both Ming-Chi Kuo and Mark Gurman, as well sources independently confirmed.
Apple instead plans to ship a new, front-facing 3D sensor, that will allow for users to authenticate by scanning their face. This move is a substantial departure from the simplicity of Touch ID, and the sophistication of the feature is unknown.
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New 3D Facial Recognition: Development
Apple had three potential options on the table for its upcoming redesigned iPhone as of late 2016. The first one featured Touch ID but on the back of the device. The second featured an integrated touch sensor in the display. And the last featured only a new 3D sensor, which both other models would have featured as well.
While the first two options were known, the third is a rather new development. For months, Apple seemed to be changing their minds in the supply chain between the first two options, looking to have settled on the second about a month ago. Now, just hours apart, the two most reputable Apple sources say the third is here to stay.
Ming-Chi explained why he believes Apple decided to remove the fingerprint scanner last second in his piece. He says:
We predict the OLED model won’t support fingerprint recognition, reasons being: (1) the full-screen design doesn’t work with existing capacitive fingerprint recognition, and (2) the scan-through ability of the under-display fingerprint solution still has technical challenges, including: (i) requirement for a more complex panel pixel design; (ii) disappointing scan-through of OLED panel despite it being thinner than LCD panel; and (iii) weakened scan-through performance due to overlayered panel module.
This likely means Apple could have included the feature but decided the 3D recognition was strong enough to outsell the challenges of an integrated fingerprint sensor.
New 3D Facial Recognition: The Sensor
The front of iPhone 8 will feature a new sensor or series of sensors that are capable of tracking faces for security authentication. Anywhere that Touch ID was previously used, including payments, secure apps, and unlocking your device, will be replaced by the new sensor.
The new sensor will be able to scan a person face, but also sense depth around the face. The reason this is important is that it is significantly more secure than typical facial recognition. In Samsung’s Galaxy S8, the company included iris scanning which people quickly learned could be tricked by showing a picture of the owner of the phone.
The sensor is also much faster than previous face scanning technologies. Apple has reportedly figured out how to get the sensor to work in many situations. Mark Gurman says it is capable of scanning a face in few hundred milliseconds. He also said it is capable of scanning while flat on a table and almost out of vision, something unseen before.
The question in my mind is whether it will work in low lighting conditions. As John Gruber pointed out:
If it’s true, then the 3D facial recognition has to be as good or better than Touch ID in every way, in all lighting conditions, or else it will be a severe regression.
New 3D Facial Recognition: Release
Apple is still on track to announce iPhone 8 at an event this fall alongside iPhone 7s and 7s Plus. Kuo claims that the inclusion of this sensor has sped up production, which means an October release is now possible.