Update: Apple has issued a statement, saying “The quality and accuracy of Face ID haven’t changed.” and “Bloomberg’s claim…is completely false.”
At Bloomberg, Alex Webb and Sam Kim write that in order to try and ship more units of the upcoming iPhone X, Apple let some of its suppliers reduce the accuracy of parts—specifically in the dot projector used for Face ID:
To boost the number of usable dot projectors and accelerate production, Apple relaxed some of the specifications for Face ID, according to a different person with knowledge of the process. As a result, it took less time to test completed modules, one of the major sticking points, the person said.
It’s not clear how much the new specs will reduce the technology’s efficacy. At the phone’s official unveiling in September, executives boasted that there was a one in a million chance that an interloper could defeat Face ID to unlock a phone. Even downgraded, it will probably still be far more accurate than Touch ID, where the odds of someone other than the owner of a phone being able to unlock it are one in 50,000.
The real question here is what the bottom line impact of this supposed “accuracy reduction” is. Bloomberg’s description of Face ID being more accurate than Touch ID in terms of false positives is correct on the surface of things, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that a “less accurate” dot projector will result in more people being able to unlock your phone. (It could, for example, make it less likely for Face ID to work correctly when presented with your face—still frustrating, but perhaps less risky overall.) There’s still a software part to this equation, and way too many unknown unknowns to jump to conclusions about how the device will be affected.
Overall, though, this puts into stark relief the issues Apple has with rolling out cutting edge tech to a product as popular as the iPhone. As many have noted, there’s a difference between producing 200,000 units of a brand new piece of tech and 20 million. In time, it’ll get better as production is streamlined, but right now, nobody else on the market needs this many of these things.