According to an accidental exposure Apple’s iPhone will have infrared-based facial recognition feature in unlocking the phone, without need for a passcode or fingerprint – and will have an almost all-screen design on the front, say developers digging into the pre-release of firmware distributed by Apple.
The firmware for the upcoming HomePod smart speaker, which is due for release at the end of the year, was pushed out via Apple’s developer system last week. It was found to contain references to other devices in its code, including the next version of the iPhone. It is unclear whether the HomePod firmware was distributed intentionally for developers to start building systems to interact with the speaker ahead of release or leaked by accident by Apple.
The code references a device code name “D22”, which developers Steve Troughton-Smith and Guilherme Rambo say is the next big revision of the iPhone, which may or may not be called the “iPhone 8”, “iPhone X” or “iPhone 10” and is expected to be announced as soon as September but potentially not released until the end of the year or later.
The developers say that Apple’s code name for face recognition feature is “Pearl ID” and that there are references to it throughout the HomePod firmware, which contains much of the next version of iOS 11 due to be released later this year.
Further probing of the firmware found an icon used to represent the D22 device, which shows a smartphone without Apple’s traditional home button and a screen that almost entirely fills the front of the device with only a cut out at the top for the front-facing camera, sensors and speaker.
The near bezel-less design has long been expected, with leaks and rumour suggesting that Apple was following Samsung’s design moves with the Galaxy S8 and producing a smartphone that resembles Android creator Andy Rubin’s upcoming Essential phone.
Apple is not the first company to use IR-based face recognition as a means of unlocking devices and authenticating users. Microsoft’s Windows Hello IR-based face recognition is found in its Surface line as well as Windows 10 computers from other manufacturers.
Samsung’s ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 introduced IR-based iris scanning to a mass-market device in August 2016, and was later introduced on the Galaxy S8, along with camera-based face recognition – a feature that has been built into Android since 2011, but has yet to be perfected on a mobile device.
Should a version of the next iPhone be released with the new facial recognition features and new, all-screen design, it will mark the biggest change to Apple’s smartphone since the introduction of larger screens in 2014 with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. That same design was then used for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 released in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
What form the D22 iPhone device takes will be key to ensuring Apple’s continued dominance at the high-end of the smartphone market. The 10-year-old brand faces fierce competition from Samsung and others in a field increasingly dominated by the look and feel of devices, following the stagnation of feature innovation.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.