updated 11:30 am EST, Tue December 3, 2013
Could be used to unlock future Apple devices
The US Patent and Trademark Office has granted Apple a new patent on a facial recognition system. The concept was first submitted in 2008, and would let people unlock a device like an iPhone or Mac simply by staring at a built-in camera. The device would store several images of a user, and only grant access if one of them matched. More significantly, Apple notes that the technology could be used to hide or reveal data on a per-case basis, instead of across the board.
One example includes phone calls; if it can't see a user's face, an iPhone might only play a ringtone/vibration alert instead of showing caller ID. In another example, incoming email messages might be hidden if recognition fails.
Apple could conceivably implement the patent in future products, especially since it recently acquired Kinect developer PrimeSense. The company took its first steps into biometric security earlier this year, when it added the Touch ID fingerprint sensor to the iPhone 5s. The 5s is the only Apple device with Touch ID, however, and if the company does add facial recognition, it will be trailing behind rivals like Samsung, which had the technology as far back as 2011's Galaxy Nexus.