Imagine what a Siri personal data assistant that can identify its owner can do.
That speculation was touched off by a patent application by Apple published this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office which was quickly discovered by the folks at AppleInsider. The technology could use an iPhone's or iPad's forward-facing camera to recognize a user's face to customize applications. That could make it easier for family members and others, perhaps in small businesses, to share devices.
The patent concerns "Low Threshold Face Recognition," which AppleInsider described as "a low-computation solution for quickly and accurately recognizing a user."
Facial recognition technology is already widely used, quickly implemented as a security enhancement following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The U.S. State Department uses it to scan visa applicants to identify possible terrorists or criminals, using a database of 75 million photographs. Facial recognition can even be used by authorities in interrogations to detect whether a suspect is lying.
Slowly Emerging Technology
But it is only slowly phasing into consumer technology. The newly launched Galaxy Nexus, Google's flagship Android device made by Samsung, allows the user to unlock the device with a smile rather than a password. Samsung even produced a commercial marketing that feature, with a little boy trying to imitate his father's grin to make a call. Many digital cameras, and current iPhones, can identify faces for the purpose of focusing the shot.
The technology can also be controversial. When Facebook in June started using it to automatically tag people in users' photos, the German government threatened to sue, claiming it violates people's privacy. Facebook countered that it's easy to opt out of the automatic recognition.
Since Apple didn't invent the technology, its unique take on it regards managing power supply and reducing the impact of lighting and biometric distortions. The patent was filed in June 2009, credited to Robert Mikio Free, AppleInsider reported.
Mobile devices expert Jeff Orr of ABI Research noted that while security is the most obvious benefit of facial recognition, other applications have yet to emerge on any large scale.
"There is not a whole lot of this capability out there, so there are probably a lot of great applications and uses that have not been considered because there is not yet a way to experiment," Orr said.
Follow That Face
One possibility, he said, is the ability to organize images, as a feature on Google's Picasa photo-sharing service now does by recognizing faces that appear most in your collection. "This might allow you to track the progress of a child in a sport or extracurricular activity," he said.
In other Apple news, the Taiwanese supplier news publication Digitimes reported Friday that Apple is expected to change its in-plane switching flat panels to more-advanced indium gallium zinc oxide panels in the next generation of mobile devices, beginning with the next iPads, and that Sharp has switched its production line for such panels to smaller screens for Apple.
The paper also reports that the new iPad will come as soon as next month with two new versions, allowing the company to target mid-range and high-end segments of the market.