Wherefore Art Thou, Face ID? What’s Already Going Wrong – And Right – With Apple’s Facial Recognition System

There’s a lot of hype over Face ID, the facial recognition system of Apple’s forthcoming iPhone X, but some of its shortcomings are already becoming clear.

Wherefore Art Thou, Face ID? What's Already Going Wrong – And Right – With Apple's Facial Recognition SystemOne is that it it struggles to recognize younger users, with Apple warning that kids under 13 don’t yet have sufficiently developed facial features to enable accurate identification. Twins also pose a problem, and any facial coverings over the eyes, mouth, and nose could also get in the way of the system’s operation.

Perhaps most significantly, multiple reports have emerged indicating that one of the key components to the TrueDepth camera that is essential to Face ID’s operation, codenamed “Romeo”, is proving so difficult to manufacture that it’s causing a bottleneck in iPhone X production. The issue has prompted respected industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities to predict that Apple won’t be able to catch up to demand for the iPhone X – with preorders expected to exceed 50 million devices – until sometime in the first half of next year.

As for what’s going right with Face ID, beyond the massive demand it seems to be helping to fuel, there are a few items of note. As The Guardian reports, Apple has made some remarkable claims about AI systems supporting the iPhone X. The company says it has developed a distinct system based on machine learning whose sole function is to detect spoofing attempts, meaning that even if Face ID proper is fooled, the secondary security system can kick in to prevent an unauthorized user from gaining access. As for Face ID itself, Apple says it has augmented its AI training over its development to ensure that it works accurately across a range of ethnicities, helping to preemptively guard against frustrations and controversies that have sometimes plagued other facial recognition systems.

Meanwhile, some privacy activists will be assuaged with Apple’s decision to bar third party developers from using Face ID to identify individuals other than consenting, authorized users in its official guidelines. Apple is also preventing developers from directly accessing the depth sensor data supporting Face ID, but will provide them related information concerning the distances of certain image features – an effort that should further help to protect the privacy of users.

These features show a proactive approach on Apple’s part to getting Face ID right by anticipating criticisms and potential problems, and could help to win over some of the users who have already taken a skeptical position toward the new system. And Apple may have a lot of time to further refine the technology before any of its issues get in too many users’ faces, if the elusive Romeo component does indeed keep the iPhone X in short supply after its official release date.

Sources: The Guardian, AppleInsider