Apple took a big risk when it ditched fingerprint sensors with the iPhone X, but consumers seem to have adjusted to the new face-scanning reality. The fervor over face unlock has become so intense that Android device makers have been putting similar features front and center. The problem, however, is that Android’s face-unlock support is rudimentary at best. According to a new leak, a better version is coming to Android in the next major release.
XDA Developers got its hands on an early copy of Android Q, widely expected to be version 10 of the platform. It includes features like a dark system UI mode and refined app permissions. XDA now reports that the new OS also has dormant code pointing to a secure face-unlock solution.
All of Apple’s current iPhones use its custom Face ID sensor array as the primary unlock solution. The phone projects a network of infrared dots on the user’s face, and an infrared camera reads the pattern to create a 3D map. This effectively ensures that you’re a real person (or at least a really good mannequin) rather than a photo. Many Android phones that use face unlock simply use the front-facing camera, which has no ability to measure depth.
Android doesn’t accept face unlock as a “secure” lock screen method right now. So, even phones that let you unlock with 2D scans via the camera will restrict access to apps like Google Pay and banking services. You’ll need to have a secure unlock method like a password or pattern as a backup. Even the handful of Android phones with a cloned version of Face ID are limited in this way because the OS lacks full support.
With Android Q, the platform will allegedly have the tools in place for OEMs to make a version of Face ID with 3D mapping hardware. While XDA can confirm the code exists in Android Q, there’s no way to test it right now. The current Google Pixel devices don’t have the necessary hardware to support secure face unlock, so the UI just crashes.
It’s a safe bet that Google’s next Pixel phones will have the necessary hardware for secure face unlock. That’ll happen toward the end of 2019. It may be almost a year before other smartphone manufacturers follow suit with their own Q-based unlock systems, though.
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