Bloomberg: Apple reduced Face ID accuracy to overcome production woes [UPDATED]

If a new report from Bloomberg is to be trusted, Apple’s marquee 3D facial recognition feature of iPhone X may not be as accurate as originally demonstrated.

That’s because, according to writers Alex Webb and Sam Kim, Apple has quietly told suppliers to lower the accuracy of Face ID in order to overcome the ongoing manufacturing woes with the dot projector component and speed up production.

UPDATE: Apple has refuted Bloomberg’s claim in a statement to the press, calling the report “completely false” and saying that the quality and accuracy of Face ID haven’t changed. “It continues to be 1 in a million probably of a random person unlocking your iPhone X with Face ID,” according to Apple.

Here’s an excerpt from the Bloomberg story:

As of early fall, it was clearer than ever that production problems meant Apple Inc. wouldn’t have enough iPhone Xs in time for the holidays. The challenge was how to make the sophisticated phone—with advanced features such as facial recognition—in large enough numbers.

As Wall Street analysts and fan blogs watched for signs that the company would stumble, Apple came up with a solution: It quietly told suppliers they could reduce the accuracy of the face-recognition technology to make it easier to manufacture, according to people familiar with the situation.

While the report states that Apple downgraded Face ID accuracy “only a little,” it’s unclear if user experience will be impacted because of that decision.

The phone’s dot projector, which flashes 30,000 dots onto the user’s face, is at the heart of Apple’s production problems. The laser projector is made of gallium arsenide, a semiconductor material and the lens is constructed of glass.

Both are fragile and easily broken. Precision is key. If the microscopic components are off by even several microns, a fraction of a hair’s breadth, the technology might not work properly, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

It’s so fragile that LG Innotek and Sharp both struggled to combine the laser and lens to make dot projectors. “At one point only about 20 percent of the dot projectors the two companies produced were usable,” said the source.

The dot projector shortage is expected to end in early 2018.

Bloomberg adds that Foxconn a month ago pulled 200 workers off an iPhone X production line because Apple was struggling to get sufficient units of the phone’s 3D sensor. Coupled with the very aggressive schedule and the fact that suppliers had not been given the typical two-year lead time, Apple was forced to postpone the handset’s arrival until November 3.

What do you make of this report?

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