There’s a new way to unlock an iPhone. Onstage today, Apple’s Phil Schiller unveiled the iPhone X, with one big surprise: no home button. Because of its edge-to-edge display, the iPhone has no place for a conventional home button, relying instead on a complex facial recognition system called Face ID to unlock the phone.
Face ID will replace Touch ID, the home button sensor that’s enabled fingerprint logins since 2013’s iPhone 5S. Users can wake the phone by swiping up from the bottom instead of hitting the button.
“Nothing has ever been simpler or more natural,” Schiller told the crowd.
The updated iPhone 8 will continue unchanged, including both the home button and Touch ID.
The new capabilities are enabled by new camera and processor systems. Apple calls the new camera TrueDepth, which both a conventional camera, an infrared camera, a depth sensor, and dot projector, which projects 30,000 infrared dots onto the user’s face. The more complex depth information also makes the system harder to spoof, since flat images won’t appear the same as a three-dimensional face.
Apple also designed a new version of its A11 processor to handle the unique demands of real-time facial recognition. Schiller referred to the chip as a “bionic engine,” using neural net technology to compare each face login against a previously enrolled face. As in Touch ID, the processing is done entirely on the device, rather than on remote servers, in an effort to protect user privacy.
According to Schiller, the result is far more accurate than Touch ID, with a one / 1,000,000 chance of letting someone else access your phone. Apple’s equivalent estimate for Touch ID was one / 50,000.
The new Face ID system was first revealed in a firmware leak over the weekend, alongside new details on wireless charging and a status bar update in iOS 11. According to the leak, the new facial recognition system will be capable of substituting for Touch ID everywhere the current system is used, both unlocking the phone and confirming purchases on iTunes, the App Store, and Apple Pay.
Experimenting with the leaked software, Brazilian developer Guilherme Rambo demonstrated how the system enrolls a person’s face, asking for a range of possible angles.