Apple has developed new Face ID hardware that they are currently testing with a COVID-like landscape in mind, according to sources.
Internally, for testing purposes only, Apple has developed a prototype case that fits around iPhone 12 that they are using to test a new Face ID array. The case fits snug around the phone, with a very visible extra sensor array sitting above the device. This prototype case allows the iPhone 12 to bypass the regular Face ID array, in favor of using the new hardware within the case.
By our measurements, the prototype array matches the same layout that we saw in the iPhone 13 CAD files that we made public back in June.
From what we’ve seen, the Face ID array inside the prototype case is narrower than the array typically found inside the iPhone 12, with the camera of the prototype being on the left side. This allows us to further speculate that the array inside the prototype is that of the iPhone 13.
To protect the sources involved with this report, we’ve opted not to make the images of this prototype public, due to the identifying marks found on the units.
Instead, I took the videos and images of about 75 prototypes to RendersByIan, and had these 3D renders made to represent what we were shown.
Because this test is happening at such a large scale to collect the most data possible, the prototype cases with the new sensor / camera array are being used instead of giving participating employees an unreleased iPhone.
As you can see in the image below, based on CADs that we obtained of the iPhone 13, the front-facing camera location within the array is now on the left side of the notch, rather than the right side as it is on iPhone 12:
Internally, Apple employees are being asked to wear masks AND glasses to test the new hardware. Some tests are conducted with masks on / masks off. Others are conducted with glasses on / glasses off while wearing a mask.
According to what we’ve been told, the testing goes pretty in depth with several indoor / outdoor tests that include every style of eye glasses and mask.
The new testing indicates that the Face ID array within the prototype has the ability to authenticate and unlock an iPhone without the aid of an Apple Watch. Back in April, still in the middle of a global pandemic that required the public to wear face masks, Apple released a software solution to the problem everyone was encountering — Face ID not working because of your mask.
If you recall, that particular update let the mask-wearing public, for the first time, use their Apple Watch to unlock their iPhone when Face ID failed. Almost immediately, there were some privacy concerns because “the feature doesn’t use Face ID to recognize and authenticate you.”
If the latest internal tests are any indication, in a future iPhone, Face ID will be able to identify you with your mask on.
To be clear, employees are being asked to set up Face ID without a mask on for the testing. This is an important distinction. Previously, we’ve seen work-arounds where people set up Face ID while wearing a mask, in an effort to get Face ID to work with a mask on. This is not that. The tests start by scanning your face without any obstructions, and the tests themselves introduce the obstructions.
According to sources, Apple has put a heavy emphasis on testing the new array with foggy glasses, acknowledging another common issue with wearing a mask.
Personally, I can say that this is a TOTAL NIGHTMARE. While wearing a mask AND my glasses, 100% of the time my glasses will fog up. With this new testing, Apple is working on ensuring Face ID can even identify you in this exact scenario.
The sources were not sure if this feature would immediately be available on iPhone 13, especially since the tests have been recent. We are, however, confident in saying that they are performing these tests with iPhone 13 Face ID hardware — so it wouldn’t be disingenuous to suggest that this could roll out in a future software update for iPhone 13 users.
Since the employees we spoke with were just the ones performing the tests, they were unfamiliar with what technological changes have been made to the new camera / sensor array, but this story was too fascinating for us to ignore.