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Is facial recognition Apple’s next big innovation refinement?

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Apple (s aapl) has a track record of taking products that work but haven’t caught on and redesigning them to give them the appeal that makes them catch fire with the general buying public. The iPad is one good example, and Siri is another. Now, there’s a new patent that suggests Apple could tackle facial recognition next.

A patent application published by the USPTO on Dec. 29 and spotted by Patently Apple describes a system for presence detection that builds on two earlier patents Apple filed related to the technology, but this time with a specific take aimed at its use in mobile devices. Prior patents dealt with presence detection on MacBooks, and advanced recognition systems for use in processor-heavy home and business applications, but this one combines sophistication with a light footprint for practical, everyday mobile use.

Source: Patently Apple

Having recently used the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for a while, what Apple’s new patent proposes to fix about presence detection sounds appealing. It describes a system in which lighting conditions, angles and scale could all be accounted for, making face recognition usable on mobiles without strict caveats and conditions. The Galaxy Nexus’s ICS face unlock feature is cute, but that’s about as far as it goes, since it fails to match in most cases and also can be fooled with a still photograph of the subject who set it up.

Apple’s new method would use shortcuts to accurately determine who’s using a device, without requiring the heavy computational costs normally involved in such a process, by ignoring face biometrics and judging the position of features to compensate for changes in subject orientation. Other advantages include a built-in feature that judges a person’s level of attentiveness when using the system, which could help it avoid being duped by still photographs.

The new patent also describes other neat tricks, like recognizing other faces among your family members, friends and co-workers and delivering different screen savers or non-secured information to those individuals. That’s a great step for shared use devices, and sounds like it could even eventually be used to set different parental restriction levels for family members who share an iPad, for instance.

Apple specifically envisions the tech for use in iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and MacBook devices, and although patents sometime never see practical application, this one does seem both useful and realistically achievable in the next couple of years. It would definitely add to Apple’s personal edge in combination with its Siri assistant, and could make iOS devices even more accessible to a broader swath of the population than they already are.

What do you think? Is this the next place we can expect Apple to take a good thing and make it better?

8 Responses to “Is facial recognition Apple’s next big innovation refinement?”

    • Ideas are not patentable only the implementation – So yes, Apple can take an idea and run with their own interpretation. It’s stealing when Google/Android use an Apple implementation rather than putting on their thinking caps and thinkin differently – Opps, forgot, that the Apple tagline :-)

      • Gabriel Martin

        Pxlated, for god sake – are you an istupid?
        I can say a long litany of APPLE misdeeds and those technology they STOLE, COPIED & BOUGHT…
        APPLE is ass hole of tech world…

  1. Personally? I’m not a fan of one company controlling technology such as this. Face recognition, touch gestures, etc. These are all technological inventions that are beneficial to the whole society and deserve to be spread world wide to every single individual no matter what company they so choose.

    The patent office is in dire need of restructuring and Apple seems to be capitalizing on the lack of decent reviewing of patents by the office. I don’t feel generalization patents should be allowed to stick.

    The future of technology is dependent on leapfrogging innovation. If one company is allowed to take other ideas and patent everything having to do with these ideas, it will stifle the leapfrogging thus creating a stalemate. Then, the only company that would be able to advance on their own technology, is itself. We would all be dependent on this company to move science forward. Evolution should not be allowed to stall.

    I don’t have a problem with specific patents relating to an indigenous technological discovery that makes it better. However, Apple has recently won many patents that encompass generalization that could keep others from innovating on an idea.

    John B.

    • Don’t be confused by generalization, most patents like this are specific implementations of and idea. Ideas are not patentable. Implement the same idea in a different manner and ya got a new patent.

      • You are correct Sir. However, if you review my following transcript again, you will see that I merely point out that if someone else did discover an idea to build on an encompassed patented development, it would be nearly impossible if the intellectual property of a company holds all the cards.

        —-” Apple has recently won many patents that encompass generalization that could keep others from innovating on an idea.”—-

        Why come up with an idea and developed it, if science and technology is controlled by one entity that will not allow it?

        I don’t blame Apple as much as I blame the patent system. Advancement is based on being able to take an idea(even patented) and modify it by expanding on these ideas. As we have learned from history here, Apple has tried to stop anyone from advancing on their products or offerings.

        John B.