Monday, April 9, 2012

Apple facial scanning patent

A new patent filed by Apple could allow the company to eventually use facial scanning technology to allow iOS devices to switch between users and possibly lock devices.

As Ars Technica reports, a recently published Apple patent includes technology that would allow iOS devices to quickly switch preferences and settings between users just by scanning your face when you hold it up in front of you. It could also be used to lock and unlock your iPad or iPhone so that people who aren't you can't access them. All this would be done with the front-facing camera.

The patent is titled "Electronic Device Operation Adjustment Based On Face Detection," and Ars Technica notes that it would be easy for it to be ported to Macs as well. The patent details several different ways the face-scanning technology could be implemented, such as helping to keep the screen rotated and centered at the user's eye level.

More compelling, probably, is the idea of fast switching between users. Right now, iOS devices don't support multiple users – that is, unique people with saved profiles on the device that include various preferences. Computers have the ability to save unique users, so it seems possible, if not likely, that iOS devices could be following suit sometime in the future. In addition to just including multiple users, face-scanning technology would take any or all of the grunt work out of actually shifting between one user and another when picking up your family iPad, for example.

Face unlock technology isn't new, although it's new to iOS. Devices running Googles' Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich already use a version of the technology that allows face scanning to unlock those devices, rather than a code or PIN. Apple filed a similar patent for face-scanning technology last year, as well.

We'd love to see Apple institute both of these bits of technology for iOS devices, but a multi-user framework would be much more useful than facial locking technology. Just the ability to have your apps, documents, Instapaper lists, Flipboard feeds and everything else ready to go when you pick up the iPad – and then able to hand it to your spouse, kids, classmates or whoever, and have them get the same – is a great way to make iPads more personal and, ultimately, more useful. Facial scan technology for switching users, and locking out unauthorized people who attempt to use the tablet, would also be a nice bonus.

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