Facing Up To Face Id

on October 23, 2017
Reading Time: 8 minutes

fI want to get my two cents in on the iPhone X’s Face ID feature so I can jump up and down for the rest of eternity shouting: “I told you so, I told you so!”

UNSEEMLY ANGST

The angst being spewed over the Face ID feature is as stupid as stupid gets. Why? Not so much because it’s stupid — which it is — but because no matter how many times pundits and observers make this same mistake, they proudly make it all over again every time Apple introduces a new, revolutionary feature to one of their products.

It is not a good idea to have a strong opinion on an new tech experience that you have not experienced. ~ Benedict Evans, @BenedictEvans 10/18/2017

Rather than growing ever more humble with each repeated failure, pundits simply double-down, growing ever more strident with each iteration of the same oft-told argument.

There have been a seemingly infinite number of stupid article’s written about Face ID, but for the sake of simplicity — and my sanity — I’ll focus mostly on one article written by Ewan Spence for Forbes entitled: New iPhone X Surprises Reveal Apple’s Flawed Vision. (All quotes are from Spence unless otherwise indicated.) Now I don’t always agree with Spence, but I respect his opinion. So it’s all the more unsettling that he — like so many others — has decided to pre-judge Face ID, and for all the wrong reasons.

DESIGN

(H)as Apple placed too much focus on design and not enough on the consumer?

No.

Oh! I’m sorry. Was that a rhetorical question? Then, by all means, let’s proceed.

PREJUDGING IS GOOD FOR ME, BUT NOT FOR THEE

Until independent testing in the real world can be performed, the benefits of Face ID over Touch ID remain to be seen.

Well, that’s kinda true. But Spence’s statement would sound far more convincing if he didn’t then spend the bulk of his article telling us that he was going to prejudge Face ID as a failure right now BEFORE independent testing in the real world could be performed. Here’s an example of how that works:

Environmental factors are going to come into play with lighting, clothing, eyewear and more all impacting on the efficiency.

You don’t know that.

YOU.

DON’T.

KNOW.

THAT.

So stop saying it. Can’t you wait? Can’t you just wait until independent testing occurs before you make that kind of judgment?

Remember when the AirPods debuted and the pundits had a field day telling us how AirPods were going to fly out of our ears and we’d end up having to buy replacements over and over again?

Yeah, good times, good times. And today what are pundits saying about losing AirPods?

(Crickets)

BEING UNFAIR

To be fair, being unfair is what we humans do. Criticizing technology before we’ve seen or touched it — as stupid as that seems — is the norm, not the exception. The less we know about a product, the more certain we are that we can judge its value. But just because we regularly and routinely do this, that doesn’t make it right. Especially for tech writers, who really should know better.

It’s a two-step process:

STEP 1: I don’t understand (whatever).

STEP 2: I must learn more about (whatever).

Ha, ha, ha! Just kidding! No, no. No one does that! Here’s how it actually works:

STEP 1: I don’t understand (whatever).

STEP 2: I’m not stupid.

STEP 3: (Whatever) must be stupid.

Behavioral psychologists call that cognitive dissonance. Aesop called it sour grapes. I call it clickbait.

SECURITY

Spence goes completely off the rails by maintaining that Touch ID is already doing everything Face ID is promising to do, so why bother doing it? He makes this same ridiculous argument not once, but three separate times.

What problem does (Face ID) solve that wasn’t already solved by Touch ID?

Security, Dude. Security.

Does Face ID offer a better solution to Touch ID?

Yes.

While Face ID solves the problem of the recognizing a user, don’t forget this problem was already solved with Touch ID.

No, it wasn’t.

For a tech writer to say the above is simply dumbfounding. Apple stated that Face ID was 20 times more secure than Touch ID. (A ratio of 1 error in 50,000 for Touch ID versus 1 error 1,000,000 for Face ID).

That’s TWENTY TIMES more secure.

And Spence thinks more and better security isn’t solving a problem? Has Spence even met technology? Of COURSE, better security is solving a problem. Saying otherwise isn’t disingenuous — it’s demented.

INSIPID IMAGINARY PROBLEMS

Remember when people were upset because they couldn’t open their phones while wearing gloves? Now they’re upset because they can’t unlock their phones while wearing ski masks.

But that’s nothing. I’m old enough to remember when people were warning us that bad guys would be able to activate Touch ID by cutting off our thumbs! Oh no!

Now, this is just speculation but — follow me here — I’m guessing that if bad guys simultaneously had access to both our phones and our thumbs, they could just place our thumb on the home button without having to cut it off first. Or they could just politely ask us to reveal our 4 or 6 digit pin numbers by threatening to cut off our thumbs. I’m thinking either of those options might be more realistic, right?

But that was then, and this is now. We’re not going to go down that blind alley again with Face ID, are we? The heck we’re not.

IN YOUR FACE

Today’s new “They’re going to cut off your thumb” is “Your girlfriend is going to unlock your phone while you’re asleep.” (Or, more likely, when you’re passed out.) Will that work? No. You have to have your eyes open to unlock the phone using Face ID. More importantly — and I don’t mean to go all “Dear Abbey” on you — if your significant other is going to try to unlock your phone while you’re sleeping, you’re in the wrong relationship.

(Note: Spence didn’t make this argument. But others have.)

CREEPY

Facial recognition is just plain creepy, and Apple is going to have an uphill battle convincing consumers that they want to store a complex 3D map of their faces in their phones. ~ Gizmodo

Well, that’s all perfectly true if by “going to have an uphill battle convincing consumers” Gizmodo means “going to make a boatload of money selling virtually every iPhone X Apple makes”.

SELLING YOUR DATA

Here’s another argument that Spence didn’t make, but since it comes up all the time, it’s best to address it.

Apple itself could use the data to benefit other sectors of its business, sell it to third parties for surveillance purposes, or receive law enforcement requests to access it facial recognition system — eventual uses that may not be contemplated by Apple customers. ~ Al Franken

Well, that might all be true…

…unless you watch the presentation or read Apple’s White paper on Face ID.

Your biometric data never leaves your device. Instead, it’s stored in an encrypted form in your phone’s Secure Enclave, where it can’t be accessed by your operating system or any of the apps running on your phone. And what’s stored in the Secure Enclave isn’t actually your fingerprint or your facial features. Touch ID and Face ID use your image and dot pattern to create a mathematical model of your face and that mathematical model can’t be reverse-engineered. The fact is, that all of this was known before Senator Franken wrote his letter and Apple said as much:

In its response letter, Apple first points the Senator to existing public info — noting it has published a Face ID security white paper and a Knowledge Base article to “explain how we protect our customers’ privacy and keep their data secure”. It adds that this “detailed information” provides answers “all of the questions you raise”. ~ Techcrunch

So all the questions were answered before they were asked. But let’s not let a little thing like facts stand in the way of speculation, grandstanding and fearmongering.

IN YOUR POCKET

Certainly the lack of Touch ID means unlocking a phone in your pocket, subtly under a table, or while being jostled in a busy commenting environment is now going to be a lot harder.

That’s it? That’s the best you’ve got? Face ID sucks because I can’t unlock my phone in my pocket?

Yeah, sure, because the last time I unlocked my phone in my pocket was…NEVER.

I could be wrong (I’m not) but most of mankind (womankind too) generally, you know, actually look at their phones when they’re using them. If your argument is that you can’t unlock your phone while it’s in your pocket, that should be a not-so-subtle clue that you’re bringing nothing to the table.

RE-EDUCATED

The user base will have to be re-educated and something that is ubiquitous in the smartphone community – fingerprint recognition – has been removed from the iPhone X.

Hmm. What a difficult problem this must be. Let’s see, let’s see. How could Apple possibly perform the difficult task of re-educating their users on how to use Face ID?

Oh, I know! They could ask them to, you know, look at their phones! Like the way they already do, like 20,000 times a day?

Wowza. Spence is seriously arguing that making people look at their phones requires re-education? C’mon, Dude. This smacks of desperation.

FUTURE POSSIBILITIES

The Touch ID sensor on the iPhone’s home button was great at what it did, but I think it had limited application elsewhere. It’s possible, for example, that it could have been used for biometrics, but I think that will be the province of the Apple Watch and maybe even the AirPods — two devices that are constantly in touch with one’s body.

The cameras and sensors in Face ID open up far more possibilities. Apple tends to introduce features that work when introduced and then those features become even more valuable when combined with features that are introduced later. This is the benefit of producing the whole widget. Apple can plan long term.

Right now, I can’t envision how Face ID will be used other than for security and AR. But that just reveals my lack of imagination and foresight. I may not be able to see exactly how the cameras and the sensors in Face ID will be used in the future, but I don’t have to be Nostradamus to see that they have the potential to do all sorts of new and interesting things. Apple isn’t just introducing a new feature that duplicates an old feature. With Face ID, they’re introducing the future.

APPLE IS DOOMED

While Apple focuses on design that benefits itself, Android’s adoption is increasing while the overpriced and over gimmicked iPhone X is going to be late and have a detrimental effect on Apple’s overall performance.

Say what now? Let’s just take a gander at some recent tech headlines.

CNBC Poll: 64% of U.S. households have at least one Apple product

CNBC Poll: 64% of U.S. households have at least one Apple product

RBC: Apple headed into a multiyear supercycle

Apple Is Sex” | Scott Galloway | Cannes Lions 2017 – YouTube

Survey: A record 78% of U.S. teens own iPhones

Survey: A record 78% of U.S. teens own iPhones

There isn’t a tech company in the world that doesn’t want to be “challenged” by competitors the way Apple is.

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

You know what’s going to actually happen? The same thing that always happens. Apple is going to remove the audio jack, be criticized and then be copied. Oh wait, that’s already happened. What I mean is, Apple is going to introduce Face ID, and everyone and their brother is going to first criticize it and then scramble to emulate it. It’s as predictable as the rising and the setting of the sun.

A STUDY IN STUPIDITY

When I look at the iPhone X I see a design that works for Apple’s benefit first, with the end-user in second. I see technical solutions that translate to buzz-words that challenge logic. I see new hardware that addresses an old problem but offers fewer benefits with its newer decision. I see design choices that are in place to emphasize Apple’s branding while weakening the consumer experience.

Well, that’s the kind of stuff you’re going to see when you have your head placed firmly up your derrière.

“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” ~ Wayne W. Dyer

THE FUTURE

There’s an old saying that history repeats itself, but that’s not quite accurate. Rather, the lessons of history repeat themselves until they’ve been learned. I think we’re going to see this behavior again the next time Apple introduces something new. Some lessons, it seems, are never learned.