Code uncovered from within a leaked version of the upcoming Android Q software update has revealed that Google is preparing for more secure facial recognition hardware.
To save getting overly complicated, the short version of this is that the code reveals a list of strings indicating messages that appear on screen either during the facial recognition setup process, or when trying to authenticate an action using a facial scan.
This could be unlocking your phone, or authorising an app download. Essentially anything that you'd usually use your fingerprint scan for. The most vital line in all of this code is one that specifically mentions being able to enable the facial scan to authorise purchases.
After the initial parameters (ie, when to display the messages), it reads: "Use your face to unlock your phone, authorise purchases, or sign in to apps." The code was revealed in a post by XDA-Developers.
Currently, most Android phones with Face Unlock features only use the front facing camera to recognise you, meaning it's nowhere near secure enough to authorise payments or app downloads etc.
There is the odd exception to this, however. For instance, the Oppo Find X and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, which do use more advanced facial recognition hardware than the likes of the OnePlus 6T. In both of these instances though, each hardware maker has had to develop its own firmware and software to go along with these sensors.
With it being built directly into the next version of Android, it means the core mobile operating system supports it, and means more manufacturers can use that to make facial recognition much more secure.
While uncovered code is interesting in itself, it does raise a few questions. Mostly timing related.
Recent Android developments - particularly in hardware - suggest manufacturers are moving away from having notches built into the tops of displays, opting for small dew-drop cutouts, or (for 2019), the even newer hole-punch style; as seen in the new Honor View 20. So why invest in this now?
We would assume that - unless building a sliding or pop-up mechanism like the Oppo Find X or Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 - including the relevant hardware for more secure facial scans would mean a regression towards bigger, wider notches as seen on the iPhone XS and Huawei Mate 20 Pro.
On a similar note, there's also the fact that in-display fingerprint readers are being developed and evolved currently. These use cameras hidden underneath the display to authenticate phone unlocks and purchases when a fingerprint is recognised. It's secure, and it doesn't require chunky display cutouts.
With all that said, there is one key element to Apple's Face ID that does make it so appealing that we won't mind chunky notches on our Pixel 4: convenience. Being able to pick up a phone while looking at it, and have it unlock without any extra steps is super useful, and takes an extra step out of getting into your phone. And we all know convenience is king.