Apple reportedly compromised on the accuracy of the iPhone X’s Face ID sensor to ramp up production

Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Stephen Lam/Reuters

    The iPhone X proved to be particularly problematic for Apple and its partners to manufacture. Apple faced a number of problems that apparently prompted it to compromise on the accuracy of Face ID, its new biometric face recognition system, to ramp up production. Many of the issues that are afflicting the first batches should be resolved by early 2018. Apple has pushed back on the report, saying “Bloomberg’s claim that Apple has reduced the accuracy spec for Face ID is completely false.”

Apple told suppliers to reduce the accuracy of the Face ID biometric recognition system in order to ramp up the iPhone X’s production, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The company’s tenth-anniversary device, the iPhone X, has long been rumoured to be in short supply due to the difficulty of production for certain components such as the aforementioned camera system for Face ID as well as the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panel that covers almost the entire front.

Apple’s quality control is usually to exceedingly high standards, but – Bloomberg says – the immense pressure the company is facing for a successful launch prompted it to quietly revise its original plan.

Rumours suggest that Apple will only have 2 to 3 million units ready for day one (November 3), while backorders will stretch for the entire holiday season with a reported 20 to 30 million total iPhones ready (Apple has far exceeded the 70 million mark for the holiday season in the past), about half of what it originally planned.

“Despite demanding the near impossible, Apple didn’t add extra time to get it right – giving suppliers the typical two-year lead time,” Bloomberg writes in its report. “The tight schedule underestimated the complexity of making and assembling exceedingly fragile components, said one of the people familiar with the production process. That left suppliers short on time to prepare their factories and explains why the iPhone X is being released a full six weeks later than the iPhone 8.”

Apple pushed back on Bloomberg’s report, sending the following statement to Business Insider.

“Customer excitement for iPhone X and Face ID has been incredible, and we can’t wait for customers to get their hands on it starting Friday, November 3. Face ID is a powerful and secure authentication system that’s incredibly easy and intuitive to use. The quality and accuracy of Face ID haven’t changed. It continues to be 1 in a million probability of a random person unlocking your iPhone with Face ID.”

“Bloomberg’s claim that Apple has reduced the accuracy spec for Face ID is completely false and we expect Face ID to be the new gold standard for facial authentication,” an Apple representative said.

The complex

The complex “TrueDepth” camera system, which is made of multiple sensors and thus requires surgical precision for everything to be aligned and work properly.

Fragility of components so small means that precision is key, as “if the microscopic components are off by even several microns, a fraction of a hair’s breadth, the technology might not work properly,” people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

The dot projector, a sensor inside the so-called TrueDepth camera system that allows Face ID to work (by projecting over 30,000 invisible point on a user’s face to create an accurate depth map of it), seemed particularly troublesome.

To boost the number of usable dot projectors, Apple apparently “relaxed some of the specifications for Face ID,” and took less time to test finalised units of the module.

Most of the manufacturing related issues, Bloomberg says, should go away as production starts to ramp up some time at the beginning of next year.