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Apple Tests 3-D Face Scanning to Unlock Next iPhone

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  • Company said to plan 3-D sensor for logins, approving payments
  • Technology being tested as replacement for fingerprint scanner

Apple Inc. is working on a feature that will let you unlock your iPhone using your face instead of a fingerprint.

For its redesigned iPhone, set to go on sale later this year, Apple is testing an improved security system that allows users to log in, authenticate payments, and launch secure apps by scanning their face, according to people familiar with the product. This is powered by a new 3-D sensor, added the people, who asked not to be identified discussing technology that’s still in development. The company is also testing eye scanning to augment the system, one of the people said.

The sensor’s speed and accuracy are focal points of the feature. It can scan a user’s face and unlock the iPhone within a few hundred milliseconds, the person said. It is designed to work even if the device is laying flat on a table, rather than just close up to the face. The feature is still being tested and may not appear with the new device. However, the intent is for it to replace the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, according to the person. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

In testing, the face unlock feature takes in more data points than a fingerprint scan, making it more secure than the Touch ID system, the person said. Apple introduced Touch ID in 2013 with the iPhone 5s for unlocking the phone and it added support for authenticating payments and logging into apps a year later.

Apple is not the first to use different forms of biometric authentication. In its latest phones, Samsung included iris scanners that let users unlock their phones and make payments by scanning their eyes. Samsung’s feature on its Galaxy S8 smartphone launched to poor reviews as users were able to trick the sensor with printed photo copies of a person’s eyes. Apple’s sensor has 3-D depth perception, which means the system is less likely to be duped by 2-D pictures. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other firms said earlier this year that a 3-D sensor would likely be included in the next iPhone.

The new iPhone’s debut this fall will mark the biggest upgrade in years to the company’s most important product. Apple launched the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus last fall, focusing on camera and speed upgrades while using the same design as the previous iPhone 6s (which essentially added a pressure-sensitive screen to the 2014 iPhone 6’s design). The iPhone generates nearly two-thirds of Apple’s sales, and has become a central hub for products like the Apple Watch, Apple TV, and the new HomePod.

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