The reason Face ID works is because of some key silicon innovations — yes, there is that TrueDepth camera system made up of a dot projector, infrared camera and flood illuminator and a seven megapixel camera. Face ID projects more than 30,000 invisible IR dots. The resulting IR image and dot pattern is then used to create a mathematical model of your face and send the data to the secure enclave to confirm a match, while adapting to physical changes in appearance over time. What decodes the data captured by this camera (for lack of a better descriptor) are neural capabilities of its A11 Bionic chip. I saw this first hand and was blown away by the effectiveness of Face ID.
The FaceID is a perfect illustration of Apple’s not so secret “secret sauce” — a perfect symbiosis of silicon, physical hardware, software, and designing for delight. Their abilities to turn complex technologies into a magical moment is predicated on this harmonious marriage of needs.
I appreciate that a lot of people in the security and technologist community are dubious of Face ID. There are reasonable concerns about whether the technology will enable law enforcement or other third-parties to unlock a person’s phone by flashing it phone in front of their face, and whether or not it will even work.
But all of those questions fail to get what Apple doing with Face ID. Don’t believe me? Then go find entirely normal users who walk into a Best Buy and buy a laptop without doing any real research, and subsequently discovering their Windows laptop supports logging in with the infrared camera. They are amazed by the technology and tend to be pretty forgiving it doesn’t always work perfectly.
If Apple can ensure that Face ID works reliably then they’re going to have an amazing halo product because, remember, those who are amazed by Face ID likely won’t own one of the new top-of-the-line iPhones. So, instead, Face ID will function as an aspirational feature that few people will have but that many will want, and likely lead to regular users purchasing the first ‘normal’ iPhone that has this cool feature.