Back in September, Apple introduced the new iPad Air with an A14 Bionic processor under the hood. Now, Tim Millet has offered some details regarding the processor, and Face ID in the time of widespread mask usage, in a new interview.

Millet, the Vice President of Platform Architecture, recently sat down with German outlet Stern (via 9to5Mac)and spoke about the brand new processor inside the iPad Air (and presumably the new iPhone 12 lineup). Unsurprisingly, Millet is excited about the power of the A14 Bionic, but also its potential. He notes that one of the strengths of Apple’s methods is the cooperation between the hardware and software teams, maximizing performance in both:

We work very closely with our software team throughout the development process to ensure that we don’t just build a piece of technology that is useful to a few.

This also extends to third-party developers as well:

We wanted to make sure that thousands upon thousands of iOS developers could do something with it.

And while the new processor is impressive in its own right, it’s also machine learning that’s really unlocking a “whole new class” of applications that developers and build and customers can enjoy.

Apple did not invent neural networks, “the foundations for them were laid many decades ago,” says Millet. “But back then, there were two problems: there was no data and there was no computing power to develop the complex models that could process this amount of data.” In 2012, there was finally a breakthrough that greatly accelerated the training times of models. Only then did technologies such as face unlocking become conceivable in a smartphone.

One other interesting thing Millet spoke about regards face masks and Face ID. While the use of face masks is not new in some regions, in other areas wearing masks as often as people are now due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic raises some issues with Face ID. The facial biometric security measure is more secure than Touch ID, according to Apple, but wearing a mask basically negates the security measure.

Millet says that Apple has had some ideas, has worked out some techniques, to bypass the mask itself but still utilize Face ID. However, implementing those ideas may not happen because security is still the primary concern for the company, so keeping Face ID as secure as it is now remains a focus:

It’s hard to see something you can’t see. The face recognition models are really good, but it’s a tricky problem. Users want convenience, but they also want to be safe. And at Apple, it’s all about making sure that the data stays secure.”

“We can think of techniques that don’t involve the part of the face that is covered by the mouth-nose protection,” Millet explains. “But then you lose some of the features that make your face unique, which in turn makes it easier to imagine that someone could unlock the phone.

The new iPad Air doesn’t feature Face ID, but instead relies on Touch ID for biometrics. However, the new tablet features the iPad Pro’s design with minimized bezels — and no physical Home button. As a result, Touch ID is integrated into the Power button. A lot of people have suggested Apple should do the same for the iPhone lineup as well, but there’s no indication Apple is moving in that direction.

You can check out the full interview over at Stern.