eXtensions - Sunday 10 September 2017

Cassandra - Weekend Review: Morning, Noon and Night - Face Recognition and Other Leaked iPhone Features

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


When I looked at the news on Sunday morning, there were three main themes: Theresa may and her Cabinet fixing Brexit, with a sidenote on Corbyn; Trump, climate and hurricanes, plus mentions of Russians; and the next Phone, rumours of which had been enlivened by a reported leak of the iOS 11 Gold Master. We all like rumours, but this was too close to the event and revealed too much. Such was the gist of much comment I had seen the day before on Twitter and through other sources. That 9to5 Mac published the GM leak was no surprise - the consensus there was that anyone would - so blame was re-aimed at whoever leaked it in the first place. And as the GM has not yet been released to developers, that looks as if it might have come from the direction of Apple.

Leaks Not Tim Cook of course. He has been complaining about leaks for months and the speculation that goes with them, especially those that are based on thin supply-chain reports. The culprit could be someone currently on the development team at Apple, I suspected, although if it is discovered who, then they will be "currently" no more one suspects.

Later on Sunday morning, I read an opinion from John Gruber (Daring Fireball) who may have inside information. It appears that the leaker certainly did as the GM was online, but could only be accessed using an obscure URL known to a few. Gruber's closing comments are sharp: "I'm nearly certain this wasn't a mistake, but rather a deliberate malicious act by a rogue Apple employee. [my italics] Whoever did this is the least popular person in Cupertino. More surprises were spoiled by this leak than any leak in Apple history." Covering this comment, AppleInsider has some more of the background to the idea. Mind you, by Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning here), none of this will matter to consumers.

Nonetheless, the rumours have heated up about names (iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus) with Chris Matyszczyk (on the overrated CNET) taking almost 500 words to debate whether the new iPhone name would be EX or TEN, although insisting (wrongly, according to Steve Jobs' pronunciation) that OS X was OS EX. Remember that it is the 10-year iPhone. Is it really important enough for a complete article?

In another Apple must fail article, on CNBC, Rebecca Ungarino, using what is loosely called market intelligence and (again) a negative outlook by the Wall Street Journal and Boris Schlossberg of BK Asset Management, plus evergreen Gene Steinberg - who now pops up as regularly as Rob Enderle used to (the man Gruber described as "Putting the 'Anal' in 'Analyst'), or Trip Chowdhury (How wrong-headed can one Apple analyst be? Philip Elmer-DeWitt) - we hear that the markets will fall (not just Apple, all of them) if the Tuesday announcements fail to reach expectations. I ask the question, Whose expectations?

Heavens, Enderle is on Twitter. I must follow. . . .

OK, drivel intermission over. More important is the excitement surrounding the alleged face recognition system that may (or may not) replace TouchID. I am not sure everyone would want to use their faces for identification purposes. There are a number of reasons why: injury, handicap, personal concerns, for example.

There was enough debate when Apple started to use fingerprints for ID purposes and unlocking the iPhone, even when most understood that - despite much misinformation from some online commentators - the fingerprint itself was not stored on the device (it was a mathematical representation) and that the data was not sent off the device, so could not be used by the authorities. None of that ever stops the negatives who always approach a question presuming Apple is wrong, yet ignore problems that other companies build in to their devices or systems.

Fingerprint setup FaceID is a little different, and a lot harder. Samsung have tried recently and there was a thread online showing one user unlocking a device with just a photo. Now I am all for knocking Samsung - I tried one of their cheaper smartphones a while back and gave up, not because of the phone itself, although it was less responsive than the iPhone I was using then, but because of the horrors of Android (v4.4) - but that could have been in demo mode and that would unlock with anything. If that is the case, it is a pretty stupid demo, but the real version may not be so easy to crack. Time enough to criticise if it is weak.

The Apple version appears to take the fingerprint recognition input care and enhance that to a 3D situation. When setting up TouchID, not only do we press the center of the print to the screen, but (as with police ink-based systems) the edges are as important and we are asked to touch and re-touch the sides several times. The face ID system will need all that and more, if a fully secure three-dimensional image of a user's face is to be used. Early in the week, I found a good description of how this might work, including a comparison of the Samsung 2D system (Mike Rundle, Medium).

Imagine for example, taking a selfie. We rarely take these full-on square to the face. The shots are usually angled (more, or less) both vertically and horizontally, so if facial ID is to be used, this has to be taken into account and we rarely have the same expression each time. Input will also differ depending on lighting, and on the time of day (morning, noon and night). Chance Miller (9to5 Mac) has a description, with screenshots. This seems to be from that Gold Master.

There is also an animation on Twitter from Mike Rundle apparently of the animation from the Face ID setup. You know, I have seen that face before. . .

Mac icon
Thank you, Susan. . .

That article from Chance Miller also has a number of other links to leaks of the Apple Watch with its antenna (new colours too) and other features of the iPhones (Jeff Benjamin), like wallpapers (I can never get excited about this).

With a total redesign, it is expected that the Home button will be replaced and that one of the side buttons will be repurposed. Christian Zibreg (iDownloadBlog) explains how this will be "multifunctional and customizable" and that those looking at the GM leak have made some discoveries about what we can expect. If this is true, after 10 years of the Home button, we will have to relearn how to use the iPhone. That will probably take . . . oh, ten minutes?

We can also expect the cameras and photo software to be improved considerably, although I am unsure of the rumour that has the twin-camera system placement changed to the vertical, unlike the horizontal positioning of the current iPhone 7 Plus.

AirPodsPhotography with recent iPhones has improved considerably and advances are always welcome. There is still some room for improvement in low light conditions, but any camera needs help when the sun goes down. My own efforts with a DSLR when I can adjust the ISO to high figures are not that brilliant. I don't like using flash, so tend to take fewer photographs after lights-out.

Not totally surprising was the news that the AirPods might also see an update at this event and that was also revealed in the GM leak. Christian Zibreg (iDownloadBlog) has a link to the animation that will appear when the case is opened near the phone (this happens now and shows charge levels), but a useful change is that the charge indicator light is to be moved to the outside of the box. Rene Ritchie on iMore also has information on the new features.

We have heard several rumours that the price of the new iPhone will be over $1000. This is already exceeded here and there are willing buyers. One of the reasons that there is expected to be a higher price is the screen. If, as expected, Apple uses an OLED screen for the device (or devices), the only supplier is Samsung and they are never going to let Apple off lightly, despite all the billions of trade Apple has put their way. Jeff Gamet (The MacObserver) is one of several who have commented on this and the cost is said to be "$130 for each iPhone 8 display - more than double what it pays for an iPhone 7 Plus LCD screen". Needless to say, Apple will be looking for alternative suppliers: Tim Cook does not like to keep all the eggs in one basket

The Tuesday event is to be held in the new Steve Jobs auditorium and I am jealous of anyone who is invited there, particularly for this first event. Even had the Bangkok Post still carried my columns, however, I doubt if I would have been invited. I usually only went to MacWorld (when it was running) and to WWDC events. I am immensely grateful for having had the chance, but doubt if I will go again. Not sour grapes: that is the way the world has moved on. Newspapers are now black and white and dead all over.

Old media

Locally, I was a bit annoyed with the BTS rail system on Saturday, when I tried to top up the card I use with the credit card. I was told that these were not accepted. At the other end, I tried to pay with cash I took from the ATM but was told I could not pay before I had gone through the turnstile. Later in the day, I tried again to pay with credit card but was told, No. When I asked when that had changed, I was told at the end of 2014, beginning of 2015.

As I had paid several times since then with a credit card, after being told that the minimum was 1,000 baht, I checked when I went home and found that the last time I did this was 3 July 2017, so I guess the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. I sent a query to BTS asking for clarification, but do note that Adrian Lim (Straits Times) reports that public transport in Singapore lost S$5.2 million last year to cheats: and I want to pay.

Also locally, I went on Saturday to watch a new movie in Major Cineplex, Siam Paragon: What Happened to Monday. It has had mixed reviews, but seemed to work fairly well, if you ignore certain problems (willing suspension of disbelief and more) although a fight scene in the bathroom fooled me with an apparent swap of characters. All 7 sisters were played by Noomi Rapace (with Clara Read as the sisters as children). It also has Willem Dafoe and Glenn Close in major roles. The rights for this movie were bought by Netflix, but as we only have about 10% of their available programming here, it is not shown on the feed in Thailand.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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