Apple is placing a bold bet that your face can securely unlock your phone, but experts are skeptical that it will be foolproof from the get-go.
The iPhone X, out in November, will rely on facial recognition technology called Face ID. Apple, which is known for discarding technologies more aggressively than rivals, dumped its well-tested Touch ID fingerprint system that has been available in iPhones since 2013.
While Face ID appears to be more sophisticated than the biometric systems used in competing devices like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 phones, experts say the iPhone X will have to prove it won’t be fooled by facial hair, makeup, glasses, masks, skin tones or poor lighting.
Apple’s bet goes beyond just unlocking phones. On Tuesday, Apple executive Phil Schiller said Face ID could also be used for purchases on an iPhone.
There are enough unanswered questions to make Premkumar Natarajan, a biometrics industry expert and Apple stockholder, decide to wait until long after the iPhone X goes on sale in November.
“How it’s going to work out is not clear to me,” said Natarajan, vice dean and professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “I was really looking forward to buying this, but now, I’m going to wait six to eight months to see what the reports are.”
Once a user’s face is detected, a dot projector in the $999 iPhone X places 30,000 infrared dots on it, and an infrared camera takes a photo. Then, a computer system uses that information to create a mathematical model of the user’s face. If that model matches one created when the user first set up the iPhone, the screen unlocks. If Face ID doesn’t recognize the owner, the phone will ask for a pass code, which like Touch ID, will still be required when the phone restarts.
Touch ID remains a part of the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. But the iPhone X’s larger screen…