The iPhone X was unveiled at the Apple September 2017 event. Apple appears to be going all out with its anniversary model and the addition of Face ID.
The ability to unlock your phone by using your facial recognition is not new. This feature is available in Android since the Galaxy Note 7, and Samsung also uses an iris scanner. Apple, however, is using a different approach. Apple uses your facial shape to unlock your token instead of using a pattern. It uses some very specialized hardware to accomplish this feat.
Although I don’t have the iPhone X yet, this area is one where I do have some experience. The modulated acquisition and transformation of spatial distortion maps into software that can be used as an identifier is a technique that has been in use for some time. Products you currently have were manufactured, packed, or quality-checked with it. I have been part of several systems using depth image acquisition for sorting produce. I can sort produce by size, grade, shape, and the type and explain how Face ID works.
Android uses facial recognition
Since Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, unlocking your phone using your face is a standard feature. This method is both the easiest and most secure.
Your Android phone’s front-facing camera can take a picture of you and Google’s facial recognition software will process it to create a data set based on that image. To unlock your phone, hold it up to your face and an image will be taken. This is processed, then compared with the data stored. If both are matched, the software passes a token to unlock your phone.
Samsung’s latest phones offer face unlocking, which was introduced to Android in 2012.
Data isn’t transmitted to any other place. It is stored on the phone and then processed there. This data is securely stored and encrypted. It cannot be accessed by any other program. Android face unlocking also doesn’t need any special lights or sensors or cameras — it uses the same front-facing camera you use to take selfies with.
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 phones and Note 8 smartphones have improved their user experience by automatically scanning when the screen is touched. The faster camera and better CPU make the process more efficient and accurate. Once you are familiar with how you hold your phone, face unlock is quick and works great.
Facial unlock’s biggest flaw is its insecure nature. Google and Samsung don’t advertise face unlock as secure. This convenience feature was created to show off (and refine!) Google’s facial recognition algorithms. A printed photograph of your face can be used against face unlock.
Samsung’s Iris scanning
Samsung brought iris scanning into the Galaxy Note 7 for the first time. The ability to have your eyes scanned by a computer to identify you and allow for safe entry into government facilities is something that we all know from movies. Samsung uses the same idea with its iris scanner system. However, it has been scaled down to work more quickly and with fewer resources. Although it may not be foolproof, this is more than sufficient security for your smartphone.
Each eye displays a unique pattern. Your right eye may be different from your left.
The iris is different for each eye. Iris patterns have a greater degree of uniqueness than fingerprints. Samsung uses your unique eyes to recognize you and create your credentials. This can be used to unlock your phone, just like a fingerprint and passcode. Hold the phone in your hands so that the camera can view your eyes. The phone will then unlock.
Samsung uses specialized hardware to achieve this feat. Near-infrared light is produced by a diode that lights up your eyes. Although it is a wavelength that human eyes cannot see, the light it emits is intense and bright. The near-infrared is useful for two reasons. It doesn’t cause your eyes to contract, it’s not reflected back into the eye and there’s no visual change. Also, because of its ability to illuminate objects with color patterns better than any wavelengths that we see. You’ll be amazed at the number of colors that are contained within your iris. There are many colors under near-infrared and each one contrasts well with the other. This is a great way to capture an image of your eye. Even though your eyes aren’t able to see it, the phone can. It uses this data to create a database.
Samsung makes use of near-infrared light with a camera that collects and processes data on your eyes.
After the iris has been lit, a narrow-focus camera is activated to capture an image. Your Galaxy S8’s front-facing camera can register color information when infrared illumination is applied, however, it wasn’t intended to. A second camera is required.
After the image has been analyzed, a unique set of data will be created. These data can then be stored safely on your mobile phone. The data is stored locally, encrypted and only you have access to the information for the purpose of recognizing your iris. This data is used to create a token, and if the iris scanner process provides the right token a security check was passed — those are your eyes, so any software that needs your identity is able to proceed.
Samsung uses a regular front-facing camera to collect data about your facial features. Most likely, facial data are used to place your face in order for the iris scanner to have a clear view.
However, there are certain drawbacks. There are some drawbacks to using iris scans to unlock your smartphone. It is not possible to collect as much data about your eye pattern. Samsung was challenged to balance security with convenience. Since no one likes to wait for scans that take five to ten seconds, the iris scanner algorithms can be tricked using high-resolution laser prints in color and regular contacts lenses to mimic the curve of the eyes. However, no one will have an image of their eye clear enough for them to unlock the Note 8 or Galaxy S8. The problem is even worse if they have.
Samsung’s Iris scanning is effective as long as you have your eyes in the “sweet spot”.
Accuracy is the bigger problem. You must analyze enough of your iris images to pass the software review. Because the camera that captures an image for recognition has a very narrow focus, there is a specific spot your eyes should be located. The checks will only be passed if you are in the sweet spot for long enough. If the system doesn’t have enough information to identify you as someone else, it is useless.
This system is great for biometric security and many people love it. You only need your eyes to work, and you won’t be able to see any photos from the spy agency. It is also very quick. You just have to learn to use it correctly — and yes, that typically comes as a result of many times holding your phone unnaturally high with your eyes wide open.
Apple’s approach to phone biometric security has been a new one. For each individual to be able to recognize a unique shape, it was not so long ago you would need specialized lighting, several cameras with very specific lenses, and an expensive image processing computer board. It’s now possible with the iPhone X’s A11 chipset and a separate computer system for crunching the numbers.
Face ID uses intense infrared lights to lighten your face. Similar to the Samsung iris scanner’s light, this wavelength is invisible but very visible. It’s like a floodlight — an equal amount of light across a wide area that washes your face and will fall off quickly at the edges of your head.
Apple is doing something completely different with Face ID, and the way it collects information about your face.
You have projected a matrix of infrared lasers on top of your face as the light illuminates your face. The LEDs emit a wavelength that is different from the one used to illuminate your face. This creates thousands of points of light covering your face. Because we cannot stay still, the light points reflect what you do.
A special camera collects image data by projecting a light matrix on top of your face, which is illuminated using an infrared lamp. All points of light are marked, and any movement or changes in them are recorded. This is depth image acquisition via modulated projection. This is a fantastic way to capture data showing shape, edges detection, and depth when an object in motion, under all lighting conditions. It is possible to collect tons of data that will allow you to recreate a particular shape in 3D.
Apple calls it the A11 Bionic Neuro Engine. This is a subsystem that has its own processor and analyzes data as it’s being collected. This data can be used to create a 3D digital mask of your face. Your face is able to move the mask as well. Apple’s new animated emojis for iOS 11 makes it a near-perfect imitation.
Face ID utilizes some of the same technology used by Android phones with Tango.
This data is used to create a unique identifier for authentication. Face ID stores the data in a secure manner, similar to Samsung’s Iris scanner. This information can be compared with what Face ID sees while Face ID is running. If the data matches the image, security checks are passed. A token that verifies “you really are you” is then given to the process asking.
Apple has made some concessions in order to make Face ID fast and simple, but there are clear benefits from the user’s perspective. Face ID can actually be more secure since you are moving, which means that there is more data being analyzed. There’s no “sweet spot”, as the entire face of the user is being used. Also, the field of view is wider. Your face is projected in a matrix that contrasts nicely with the background. This is because the camera uses depth to show your facial features.
Apple’s TrueDepth Camera system also allows for the use of real-time shape data from your face. This was demonstrated by the Snapchat masks and animated emojis as well as the portrait mode that allows for photos. The Bionic Neural Engine was designed by Apple so that it can easily share shape data with third-party software, without having to reveal the data used in building a secure token.
Which one is best?
We cannot say what is truly better until we try it.
It’s subjective to say something is better, particularly since we haven’t used Face ID in the real world. The most important aspect of authentication is accuracy and speed. Samsung’s fingerprint scanner is able to scan as long as the user points the device at the required data. However, on paper Face ID will work better because the smartphone doesn’t have to be locked in any specific spot. We feel that neither option is best and would rather have a fingerprint sensor. Both the Galaxy S8 & Note 8 still offer this feature.
No matter what your preference, Apple is undoubtedly the best in this area. The extensive hardware used to collect and analyze data from your face, including its features and shape, is more like Tango than any other facial recognition system we have seen. This level of technology is exciting for mobile devices. I can’t wait until future Apple products improve on the ones we have.