Fear-Mongering About an Alleged Inferior Face ID

October 26th, 2017

As we get closer and closer to the on-sale date for the iPhone X, the claims and counterclaims about whether you’ll actually be able to take one home from an Apple Store in a timely fashion, like right away, are becoming more confusing than ever. Add to that, recent suggestions that Apple had to reduce quality of the Face ID system in order to improve yield rates to acceptable levels.

The overall impression that’s being conveyed is that maybe you shouldn’t even attempt to buy one, because you’ll wait months to receive it. Worse, the quality of the facial recognition components — which replaces Touch ID —might be subpar. It won’t be safe, and maybe it won’t even work.

All this is happening before you can even buy one. Sure, a small number of journalists are already reviewing them, and if there are any problems with anything on the iPhone X, you’ll hear about it plenty a day or two before the on-sale date. There’s not a shadow of a doubt about it.

Obviously, the stakes are high for Apple. This is the first time Apple has launched two separate iPhone product lines in a single media event. Usually it’s one model in two sizes in recent years, plus older models at reduced prices.

When it comes to performance, the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X will be about the same. They use the same processor and other components. The major difference is that the iPhone X has Face ID instead of Touch ID, and that 5.8-inch Super Retina OLED display. Since these two are new for Apple, although OLED has been used on other smartphones, you expect it to take more time to rev up production. That is a key reason for putting it on sale several weeks after the other iPhones.

Indeed, according to published reports, sales of the “mainstream” iPhones are substantially lower, in part, because there’s a tremendous amount of interest in the iPhone X. Indeed, people were being discouraged from buying last year’s iPhones because of the expectations of a special 10th anniversary version. Of course, until very shortly before it was announced, the iPhone X was usually referred to as the iPhone 8.

But maybe this year, with the flagship iPhone on the horizon, people are paying attention and holding off, at least until they see whether it’s worth spending $999 for one, and whether they are endure a shipping delay.

Now about that report that Apple has lowered its standards for Face ID accuracy. The story originated in Bloomberg, which does not have a terribly good track record when it comes to accurate reporting about Apple. It’s quite possible that ongoing changes in the product to improve production efficiency may be interpreted as some sort of serious quality compromise that Apple was force to make out of desperation.

You see where the fear-mongering comes in?

So far Apple has been coy about how many units will be available on November 3rd, other than to say that you will be able to pick up one at an Apple Store if you get there early. That leaves plenty of room for lurid speculation. Supposedly far fewer units will be available this year, which could mean serious backorder situations that will hurt sales. Or maybe customers will just take one of the “lesser” models if they need a new iPhone.

But the mere suggestion that Apple might be sacrificing quality to build more product has brought a swift reaction. In a statement issued to the media, the company states:

Customer excitement for iPhone X and Face ID has been incredible, and we can’t wait for customers to get their hands on it starting Friday, November 3. Face ID is a powerful and secure authentication system that’s incredibly easy and intuitive to use. 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.

So how often does Apple ever deny a press report? Or even acknowledge it exists? Now Apple isn’t actually denying that that running changes might have been made to improve manufacturing efficiency. But if the end product meets specs, why should it be a problem?

Now I suppose it’s possible that Apple might have intended to offer a “2 in a million” accuracy spec once upon a time, and realized it couldn’t meet that standard in a mass produced product. If that were true, it’s a decision that was made months ago, before the iPhone X was launched. But that’s just speculation. If there were such a change, it’s quite likely you’ll never hear about it — ever.

Obviously, if there are any problems with Face ID accuracy, you’ll know soon enough. Once customers have them, they will be using and abusing them to see if anything breaks.

But imagine! All this ruckus before a single iPhone X ships.

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