Apple defends Face ID accuracy after report claiming it lowered quality to boost iPhone X production

For the past few months, there has been a steady stream of reports about Apple struggling to meet expected volume for the iPhone X before its November launch date. But little had been made as to why.

According to a new Bloomberg report Wednesday, the production struggle was because a sensor used for Face ID complicated the manufacturing process. Apple quietly told suppliers they could reduce the accuracy of Face ID to speed up manufacturing of the deluxe iPhone, Bloomberg reported.

Apple is denying the Bloomberg report.

“Face ID is a powerful and secure authentication system that’s incredibly easy and intuitive to use,” an Apple spokesperson said Wednesday. “The quality and accuracy of Face ID haven’t changed. It continues to be 1 in a million probability of a random person unlocking your iPhone with Face ID. Bloomberg’s claim that Apple has reduced the accuracy spec for Face ID is completely false and we expect Face ID to be the new gold standard for facial authentication.”

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The report made shockwaves in the Apple community. Face ID is the premier feature in the new iPhone X, which will be available for pre-orders starting Friday. Using new cameras and sensors on the front side, iPhone X users will be able to unlock the phone with their faces.

It works by beaming infrared light onto the face, establish that the user is looking directly at the phone and then flashes 30,000 dots on the face — these dots will help identify if the scan matches the facial data stored on the iPhone X.

The crux of the problem has been with the dot projector, according to Bloomberg. The dot projector is made of two parts: a glass lens and a vertical cavity surface-emitting laser, responsible for flashing the dots. Both are fragile and a manufacturing miscalculation by less than a fraction of a hair’s width can ruin the technology.

In addition, Apple gave suppliers two years to learn the technology and manufacture it with precision. While it is the standard time for past iPhones, the new levels of complexity on the iPhone X made the timeline “aggressive,” according to an unnamed source who spoke with Bloomberg.

The fragility of the components and Apple’s well-known perfectionism made it hard for suppliers to keep up. One supplier failed to meet Apple’s specifications in time, and others slowed down production to ensure precision.

And that is where Apple decided to loosen its belt, relaxing some of the Face ID specifications to boost production, according to the report. It is unclear how the relaxation will affect the technology. The 3-D sensor shortage is expected to be a thing of the past by early 2018.

Despite Apple’s relaxing of the rules, Apple still has far less iPhone X units in stock than expected, according to numerous sources. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said Apple had 2 million to 3 million iPhone X units ready for pre-orders and the public release on Nov. 3; in contrast, Apple sold 13 million iPhone 6S and 6S Plus units during their launch weekend.

For 2017, Apple has 20 million iPhone X units in supply, or half of its expected volume, according to Japanese news outlet Nikkei. Kuo put his figures between 25 million and 30 million.

Apple’s shares were down 0.67 percent Wednesday by midday.

Photo: The iPhone X’s Face ID feature allows users to unlock their smartphones by pointing their face at its cameras and sensors. (Courtesy Apple)


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