Future iPhones or iPads could use facial recognition technology to unlock when the device recognises its user or block out information when it does not, according to an Apple patent filed in the US.
The iPhone 5s already identifies users through their fingerprints, but it appears that Apple is looking to add a further layer of security to its mobile devices.
The patent, for a “personal computing device control using face detection and recognition” is made up of three systems: a face detection decision application; a face recognition application; and an input/output control application.
These three systems will work together to determine whether a user is authorised to use a given smartphone or tablet, and will activate certain functions if they are, according to Apple Insider.
For instance, during an incoming phone call, an iPhone should have the ability to “sense” if a user is looking at the device’s screen. If they are not authorised, then the screen would remain off and only a vibration alert or ringtone would sound. But if the user is authorised, the normal incoming call alert would be displayed.
As the patent states: “The invention, in various embodiments, addresses deficiencies in the prior art by providing systems, methods and devices that enable a personal computing device to detect the presence of at least one user, without the need for receiving active user input information, and control certain device operations depending on whether a user is present.”
It is unclear what plans Apple has to implement the technology, which already exists in a similar form on the Galaxy Nexus phone. Both Microsoft’s new Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 employ the feature for user logins.
Apple recently purchased PrimeSense, the Israeli motion-sensing hardware and software firm responsible for the technology behind Microsoft’s first Kinect sensor.
Although the patent was filed before this purchase, alongside the acquisition of PrimeSense it is clearly an area Apple are moving in the direction of.
One useful scenario for the patented technology could be when someone hands their phone to a friend or family member, and while they are holding it, a private email or message comes in. According to the patent, Apple’s facial recognition would stop the notification being displayed because the user is not authorised, meaning the sensitive email or message could remain private.