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  • Random Observations About Apple and Biometrics

    February 23rd, 2018

    When the rumors first arose about alleged problems embedding Touch ID in what became the iPhone X, it was painted as a technology problem. Apple couldn’t find a workable scheme to embed a fingerprint sensor beneath an OLED display, so they rushed and scrambled for a solution.

    Apple, of course, ignores such claims. They have been developing facial recognition, Face ID, for several years. Then again, it’s very likely the original concept of an iPhone X didn’t exactly happen last year.

    But when it comes to Apple’s original Touch ID, which debuted on the iPhone 5s in 2012, it’s existence hasn’t quite been a seamless experience. The original version wasn’t always so accurate, although iOS software updates improved things. For some, the accuracy rate would decrease over extended use, and you’d have to redo the setup every so often. With five profiles, I’d often use two for each thumb to give the system as many possibilities for accurate recognition as possible.

    Nowadays, I can get maybe 90% accuracy. It gets worse when I’m just careless of where I place my thumb. Sometimes I have to revert to the passcode for my iPhone to unlock. Certainly it’s not perfect for other companies either, so perhaps Apple came to the inevitable conclusion that something better was needed, and that’s where Face ID came into the picture.

    Apple claims it’s more accurate. According to its support document on the to; ic: “The probability that a random person in the population could look at your iPhone X and unlock it using Face ID is approximately 1 in 1,000,000 (versus 1 in 50,000 for Touch ID).”

    In my travels, I have talked to some iPhone X owners. None of them reported any problems in configuring Face ID, or its accuracy level. Even adapting to the lack of a Home button doesn’t faze them particularly. Indeed, the manager of a local Indian restaurant who shares my interest in Macs and iPhones, was happy to instruct me on using the new gestures.

    Remember that the critics were first claiming that Apple invented Face ID as an afterthought, a last-minute attempt to replace Touch ID because it wouldn’t work with the OLED display. If that were true, that all this sophisticated technology was simply tossed together in a rush act of desperation in the space of a few months, Apple’s designers must be far more brilliant that we could have anticipated. If the press of a deadline can inspire this level of creativity, what could they do if actually given enough time to do it right?

    [Waiting for the sound of laughter.]

    The critics also complained about all those alleged privacy problems with Face ID, morally basing such unproven claims on the quality of facial and iris recognition on the Samsung Galaxy S8, both of which can be defeated with digital photos. Face ID may not be perfect, but getting past it is no easy accomplishment.

    Then again, we’re being told the iPhone X was a total fail, that demand collapsed quickly it went on sale. Even after Apple reported high demand for all its iPhones, the stories poor sales for the flagship have persisted, it’s almost as if the company’s financials don’t exist. Or maybe time has stood still and they were actually never released, or the words in them don’t exist.

    It’s one of the wildest disconnects between what Apple reports and what the critics want you to believe.

    Indeed some of the claims I’ve seen about iPhone sales are still inconsistent, some demonstrating good numbers, some not so good.

    Industry analysts feel that Apple’s guidance for the March quarter is not as good as it should be despite the fact that it estimates double-digit growth for the iPhone compared to the year-ago quarter. At a time when smartphone sales have flattened worldwide, that Apple expects growing sales on its most popular gadget ought to be a good thing.

    Then there’s an editorial from AppleInsider’s Daniel Eran Dilger that, despite its alleged success, Google is forced to spend billions of dollars for the default position on Safari for iOS and macOS, because it delivers lots of potential ad income. Remember that Google doesn’t earn much money from Android. Most of it comes from targeted ads, although some results from Google Play sales. Attempts to sell its own premium-priced smartphones under the Nexus and Pixel monikers haven’t fared so well. Apple sells more iPhones in a week than Alphabet sells Pixel phones in a full year.

    And can anyone list the most important features of the last released version of Android, version 8 Oreo? I had to look it up even to find the name. What is certain is that the adoption curve is minimal, as usual, and that most Android handsets feature OS versions a year or two old, security leaks intact.

    Anyway, time for me to return to the real world such as it is.

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