Apple’s latest ‘fine I’ll take out a mortgage' development, the iPhone X, introduces a number of new features, the most intriguing of which is the advanced facial recognition which will serve to unlock the device.
The advanced Face-ID technology relies on dual cameras for 3D imaging, plots thousands of dots of light on the face to emulate facial expressions in real-time, so that users can, among other things, generate animated emojis, and it also includes infra-red imaging to recognize the owner in the dark.
We asked Jim Peters, CTO of SITA and head of the innovative SITA Lab for his impressions on how the latest desirable Apple product might improve the travel process.
He explains why the new Apple face ID is different from anything we’ve seen before:
“It is a 3D technology, because they are using two cameras and taking infrared locations of different aspects of your face and 3D is better than 2D.
"A lot of the stuff we use today is 2D, because that is what is in your passport. When it looks up your picture it will compare whether your image matches the picture on your passport.
“Samsung had put out an initial face recognition system that was 2D and you could use a picture of yourself to authenticate it, so it didn't test for liveness. This is 3D and it checks that you are alive. You have to move a little bit, your eyes have to be open. So, yes, they've got a very good facial recognition.”
The many measurement points that also allow the new iPhone X to plot facial gestures on animated emojis in real-time add new layers of security, though there are always vulnerabilities in systems, the efforts required to dupe the new iPhone X are substantial.
Even so, there are other challenges for facial recognition biometrics.
“The facial recognition is always a percentage game. Is it 99.99% or 99.97% in terms of how often it correctly recognises you, how often there a false positive that says you are someone that you are not. It's always about those numbers.
“It is a problem in facial biometrics recognition that, as you age, it will change. Certainly if you had a passport picture of someone at 8 years and they are 40, that's a problem, but of course passports have to be updated more often than that. But you have very young people or people of middle age, it may not work as well.”
The most significant contribution of the iPhone X, Peters says, is that it will advance adoption of biometrics by making the public more comfortable with this technology.
“The new iPhoneX will increase the overall awareness..more and more people will be willing to work with systems that are based on facial biometrics. They'll say, ‘Well, my iPhone does it so why can't my security on my door do it?’ ...
"This will make [the technology] more ubiquitous. People will be working with it and using it all of the time, especially if it goes well and people don't have problems with it.”
A 2014 study by Accenture LLP, which details comfort levels with various biometric applications around the world, found that people were more comfortable using biometric technology if it made travel easier.
For example, 85% of the 3,000 citizens surveyed in six countries around the world said they found biometric control e-gates faster and more convenient than standard manual border clearance.
Additionally, 72% of those who had used a biometric e-gate said they would be comfortable using biometrics in to verify their identities in other contexts.
But the iPhone X’s facial ID technology will not benefit e-gates or biometric boarding directly, as Peters explains:
“The face doesn't leave your phone, so if you walked up to a camera to board, it will take your picture but it won't access the face on the phone unless the gate somehow starts talking to your phone. Things don't work that way today.
“What we did in the biometric boarding trials with JetBlue is use the photos of passengers [already registered with US Customs and Border Protection]. For having your phone interact with the infrastructure—say looking at the phone and getting the gate to open—it is not clear how the phone would communicate with the gate.
"We're thinking about different options of how it might work, but the security model doesn't really fit that well.
“Governments are not keen on trusting someone else's device and someone else's picture capture to identify their citizens or their visitors. That will remain more of a challenge in terms of how the iPhoneX function would integrate into the aviation industry.
"Probably the biggest benefit is just getting people used to doing it, but I don't know that the security model is such that the iPhone X technology will be used as any part of aviation security.”
Critics of the iPhone X launch have pointed out that Apple is still catching up with some of the capabilities already available on some Android devices, but Apple has a way of making even common features more attractive to consumers and also of fine-tuning the performance of those features.
Even the harshest critics have acknowledged that the new Face ID 3D mapping is “something”.
Other iPhone features might prove interesting in a travel context. For example, the more secure payment authorisation using facial ID, which will work with Apple Pay, might serve to make high-value mobile transactions more common.
Travel companies might have fun using the new graphics capabilities for augmented reality, helping iPhoneX users “selfie” themselves into various travel scenes.
And, of course, who wouldn’t love to interact with an animated emoji customer service panda bot on Messages? We’ll get right on that story when it happens.