Just imagine unlocking your iPhone just by looking at it. According to the latest report from KGI analyst Ming Chi-Kuo, whose Apple predictions often turn out to be accurate, the next iPhone could be capable of that and more thanks to a “revolutionary” front-facing 3D camera system.
The KGI report, via 9to5Mac, claims the new camera system will merge 2D images taken by a standard front-facing camera with depth information from an infrared sensor to create 3D images. While turning the iPhone into a Nintendo 3DS isn’t going to excite anyone, this might: the camera could be the engine that powers a visual login system similar to Windows Hello, where the iPhone unlocks the phone based on detailed facial or iris recognition.
Like other mobile infrared systems — like the one in Amazon’s ill-fated Fire Phone — an IR sensor and emitter would work with the existing selfie camera to discern how far objects are in the scene. Along with facial scanning, such a camera could be used to take 3D selfies for more realistic avatars in new apps. It could also help make augmented reality and virtual reality games even better, opening up the iPhone for even more Pokemon Go-style fun.
The new camera rig will likely run using PrimeSense algorithms. Apple acquired the company, which was behind the Xbox’s Kinect, back in 2013.
The front-facing camera is the focus now, but Kuo reports the tech could be added to the rear camera as well, which might remove the need for the dual-camera system currently in the iPhone 7 Plus.
While the idea of unlocking an iPhone with a glance is exciting, the new biometric system won’t come without a new set of concerns that will need to be addressed. From the purely functional perspective, it could become a hassle to keep the phone locked if it opens up every time the camera is in range of the owner’s face. Security could become a concern, too — it may be easier for outsiders to force access in compromising situations, like a mugging or a border detainment.
While the KGI report made no mention of yesterday’s reported acquisition of photo-recognition specialist RealFace (and others Apple has made over the years), the two reports show Apple isn’t even close to being done improving the iPhone’s camera — something it’s been steadily doing for the better part of a decade.