It looks increasingly like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) might ditch Touch ID in the forthcoming iPhone 8. The company has reportedly been trying to integrate Touch ID directly into the display since the iPhone 8 is expected to feature a larger display and forgo the hardware home button altogether in favor of a virtual button. However, the tech titan is having trouble doing so. Other reports have suggested that perhaps Apple will move the Touch ID sensor to the back of the device.
But the headline biometric security feature should be 3D sensing capabilities, and Apple appears ready to implement a form of facial recognition that will supplant Touch ID.
"Face ID" will work with Apple Pay
This new "Face ID" feature, or whatever Apple decides to call it, appears to work with Apple Pay, as well as other areas where Touch ID is currently used. Developers have been digging into the HomePod firmware that Apple recently released, and have found all sorts of clues, according to MacRumors. Like Touch ID, the facial recognition system will support multiple faces that it can recognize, and developers can integrate the technology into third-party apps. Soon, you might be able to pay for things with your face instead of your fingerprint.
While Touch ID was not foolproof, it was undeniably stronger than traditional alphanumeric passwords or numerical PINs. That will be the bar that Face ID must clear, otherwise it would effectively be a regression in security.
Which is what Samsung's facial recognition is
Facial recognition is one of the headline features for Samsung's current flagship, the Galaxy S8, which was released earlier this year. That device also includes a fingerprint scanner located on the rear of the device, and also has an iris scanner. Here's the thing: Samsung acknowledges upfront that "Face recognition is less secure than pattern, PIN, or password."
Shortly after the Galaxy S8 was launched, people discovered that you could bypass the system with a simple picture of the phone's owner. As such, users cannot use facial recognition with Samsung's competing mobile payment service, Samsung Pay.
How will Apple avoid this fate?
Samsung's facial recognition feature is primarily software-driven and uses the relatively standard front-facing camera to recognize the user's face, which is why it's easily fooled by a 2D photograph. In contrast, Apple is using vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) sensors, sourced from suppliers Lumentum and Finisar (and possibly a third supplier). These are the same type of sensors that Alphabet subsidiary Google used in Project Tango, its experimental smartphone and tablet from a few years back that had 3D motion and depth sensing.
Instead of a regular camera essentially recognizing a 2D image, the VCSEL sensors will be able to recognize faces in 3D. Apple's technology reportedly will even work when the device is lying flat on a table, so you might not even have to hold up the iPhone 8 directly in front of you.
With the iPhone event just around the corner in September, investors won't have to wait much longer to find out official details about how "Face ID" works.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends GOOG, GOOGL, and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.