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Apple's 'iPhone 8' facial recognition tech might support Apple Pay, third-party apps, 'multi' biometrics

Source: Gordon Kelly via Forbes

Code uncovered in recently leaked HomePod firmware suggests the facial recognition system rumored to debut in Apple's "iPhone 8" will support payments, combined biometric security and include hooks for third-party apps.

In a tweet on Wednesday, developer Guilherme Rambo posted screenshots of previously unreported functionality related to "Pearl ID," thought to be Apple's codename for "iPhone 8's" facial recognition system. Specifically, lines of code seemingly reference system support for payments, a "multi biometric" solution and what appears to be integrations for third-party apps.

As noted by Rambo, Apple's leaked software includes contingencies for "GENERIC_ERROR_PEARL_AUTHENTICATION_ERROR" and "PAYMENT_ERROR_PEARL_AUTHENTICATION_ERROR," both triggers for iOS system-level functions. The code appears to point to "Pearl" integration with payments technology, likely Apple's own Apple Pay. Previous discoveries suggested "Pearl" would merely aid in payments, not authenticate users on its own.

Rambo also discovered the code point "numberOfAppsUsingPearl:" which suggests more than one app will be able to tap into facial recognition features. While the code fails to distinguish between first- and third-party software, Apple currently allows third-party apps to authenticate users via its Touch ID. A next-generation iPhone would likely include similar functionality for its own biometric security hardware.

The "numberOfAppsUsingPearl:" line appears to connect with Apple's current method of handling user privacy, as current builds of iOS let users monitor and control all apps that access Touch ID.

Related to system security, Rambo uncovered a line of code reading "canPerformMultiBiometrics." Unfortunately, the term "MultiBiometrics" is difficult to parse and the leaked HomePod firmware fails to elaborate on its origin.

Some have taken the code point to mean "iPhone 8" facial recognition will support multiple users, but considering Apple's approach to security and its view of iPhone as the ultimate personal device, multi-user integration seems highly unlikely. Aside from iPads in mass deployment scenarios, like educational institutions, iOS does not contain allowances for more than one user.

The "MultiBiometrics" line could reference a two-step biometric authentication solution as predicted by KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In in January, Kuo said Apple could buffer potential shortcomings of "FaceDetect" hardware by requiring users to also authenticate with proven Touch ID fingerprint sensing. The hybrid two-step bio-recognition system would therefore require users to verify their identity with both a fingerprint and facial scan.

Rambo discovered lines of code that suggest both front and rear "iPhone 8" cameras will support facial recognition. In particular, "CAMCaptureCapabilities" code points reference "FrontPearl" and "BackPearl" support. The function might be related to code discovered this week that hinted iPhone's facial recognition assets will work even when the device is laying on a table or desk.

Other tidbits include mention of "1080p240fps" video recording and enhanced HDR camera capture.

The HomePod firmware leaked inadvertently by Apple continues to offer the best look yet at the company's unannounced handset. Previous discoveries point to a new camera feature dubbed "SmartCam," front and rear camera support for 4K video at 60fps, split status bar user interface and bezel-less design with sensor notch.

Most recently, code strings unearthed earlier today suggest "iPhone 8" will silence notifications when it determines a user is already looking at its screen.