Google originally planned to include a Face Unlock feature in the Pixel 6 smartphone, evidence suggests; and it could still bring it back. The evidences comes by way of XDA Developers, known for its investigative efforts to dig into various products’ source code.
XDA’s team had previously discovered evidence of a planned Face Unlock feature ahead of the Pixel 6’s launch, when a UK-based retailer accidentally leaked preliminary marketing materials. Now, an “XDA Recognized Developer” operating under the moniker “Freak07” has discovered code changes to a Pixel 6 configuration file that suggest Google was working on a Face Unlock feature to which it referred internally as “Tuscany”.
It still isn’t clear why Google opted to drop the feature before the Pixel 6’s launch, but it was a consequential decision. It left the device’s in-display fingerprint scanner as its only biometric modality for user authentication and, as it turned out, this feature ended up being the one salient failing of an otherwise well-received flagship smartphone.
Frustrated consumers have been airing the complaints on social media, and tech reviewers have attested that the sensor is slower than those of other smartphones on the market, and less reliable in terms of false rejections. Google has responded via its official Twitter account, suggesting that the device’s fingerprint scanning may be the result of “enhanced security algorithms”.
The debacle has been notable for the way it has illuminated the state of the art in mobile biometrics. In-display fingerprint sensors are still a fairly new innovation, and this was Google’s first attempt at the technology. Nevertheless, consumers are so used to the convenience of mobile fingerprint scanning that a slight misstep in getting the technology right has resulted in numerous complaints from Google’s customers.
It also shows the importance of including facial recognition as an option on mobile devices. After Apple catalyzed interest in Face Unlock systems with its iPhone X in 2017, the modality is now commonplace, and Google itself has deployed the technology impressively in its Pixel 4 and 4a smartphones.
XDA Developers’ Pranob Mehrotra believes that Google still may decide to correct course, writing that “the fact that it hasn’t removed all evidence from the source suggests that Face Unlock could make its way to the Pixel 6 series in the future.” Meanwhile, others have suggested that a software update could also improve the functionality of the in-display sensor. Either would be a relief to the Pixel 6 users who rely on biometric authentication, and are presumably otherwise happy with their devices.