Apple filed a patent, allowing users to unlock their iPhones and iPads with their face, paving the way for advanced facial recognition to future devices.
The patent application, discovered by Apple Insider, covers "Electronic Device Operation Adjustment Based on Face Detection." The technology recognizes a specific user identity by scanning a user's forward gaze into the camera, unlocking the phone or turning on certain apps.
Facial recognition isn't unknown territory for competitors. Android's Galaxy Nexus experimented with unlocking facial recognition technology, but the development didn't go far when users realized it could be fooled by a picture. If Apple implements this application, Android devices are likely to try to find a way to mimic the technology and its benefits.
The technology is gaining attention, but has yet to integrate into common devices because of such reliability concerns. There is little to suggest Apple's patent covers any technology to sidestep such issues. Also, on a larger scale, users don't yet fully trust facial technology, as some are wary about having their identity stored on a database.
The patent application doesn't guarantee that facial recognition technology will roll out anytime soon. Apple could use the filing to cover its legal footprint to prep for future technologies and future showdowns with rivals. The application covers a specific function -- not only does it unlock the phone, but it triggers a customized layout and settings based on that users' preference.
If the initial facial recognition doesn't take, users can enter a security code, much like the interface of Android's Galaxy Nexus operation. But features specific to Apple's technology could be helpful, as multiple users could have safe access to the same device.
Apple is looking ahead by trying to secure legal rights to facial recognition for its devices, but the concept is murky and not necessarily trustworthy for many users. However, if Apple manages to pull off an interface that's easy to use and secure, it could be the one to transform how users interact with devices, as the company has done with its many other advancements.