Home Forget PIN Numbers, Apple Wants to Let You Unlock Your iPhone With Your Face

Forget PIN Numbers, Apple Wants to Let You Unlock Your iPhone With Your Face

Compared to how things used to be done with desktop computers, accessing your smartphone seems as instantaneous as it gets. You just pick up the device, tap a button, slide a finger to the right, enter (or Swype) your passcode and you’re in. The whole process takes about two seconds and requires virtually no physical energy on your part. Piece of cake.

As quick and painless as this seems, Apple wants to simplify things even further for owners of its iPhones, iPads and other iOS devices. Imagine walking up to your phone or tablet in its dock and seeing the screen light up with a greeting. You pick it up and pull it a few inches closer to your face, and voilà! the screen is unlocked and the digital universe is instantly at your finger tips.

This reality is not too far off, according to a patent filed recently by Apple. The company wants to build presence and facial recognition into its device so that users can simply approach and peer into a device in order to activate it. No more PIN numbers or button-pressing.

This is a feature already available on jailbroken iPhones, but one that works very slowly and can easily be hacked using a photograph.

Update: As some of our diligent commenters have pointed out, facial recognition unlock feature is also available in Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of Android. That implementation, however, has been shown to be easily fooled and Google has acknowledged that its not as secure as a traditional passcode.

The technology required to get this type of feature to work effectively is pretty sophisticated and, as Patently Apple describes it, “computationally expensive.” The trade-off for using an alternative method is weaker security, which defeats the purpose.

In a somewhat jargon-loaded post, the Apple patent-watching blog describes how the company plans to overcome the challenges associated with implementing such technology. Their method would use a two-dimensional analysis of the placement of facial features as well as skin tone and check those details against “target images” previously captured by the device. This patent comes about a month after news of Apple’s acquisition of a patent for advanced 3D object recognition, which could be used in a similar fashion.

Exactly how they would thwart creative attempts to hack the system wasn’t detailed, but presumably they would have that sorted before this feature sees the light of day.

Plans like this point to the future of our interaction with computers and data. Motion-based gestural control is already here thanks to Microsoft’s Kinect and the iPhone 4S has brought the most capable voice-controlled artificial intelligence application yet to the mass market. Siri is rumored to be coming to other iOS devices, including the iPad 3 and Apple’s much-rumored HD television set, due to launch next year. Thanks to the curious tinkering of developers, we’ve begun to see what tools like the Kinect and Siri are capable of, and their potential goes way beyond desktop computers and mobile devices.

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