Apple seeking face unlock patent yet again

September 24, 2012
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It looks like things are about to get interesting. Despite Google being awarded a patent earlier this month for face-to-unlock features, Apple appears to be applying to patent almost the exact same thing. Who wants to bet that this ends up being settled in a court somewhere?

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Apple applied for a very similar patent in December of last year. At that time, face unlock was already present in phones running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Things have only gotten more confusing from there.

While Google had been using face unlock for nearly a year, the nature of the patent awarded to them earlier this month is slightly different in nature. In addition to simply unlocking a device, this patent describes a technology that can identify different users and log them into the correct account. While that technology might not be too useful on a phone, which typically only has one user, both computers and tablets could benefit from it greatly.

face-unlock

Apple’s patent doesn’t seem to mention anything about multiple users but it does go step beyond simply unlocking the device. Apple describes using a system of sensors to determine whether the phone should be unlocked. For example, if the camera recognizes its owner’s face, but isn’t being held, the device would not unlock.

Even with the minor differences, this still doesn’t seem far from what is described in the patent awarded to Google earlier this month, especially when there are already Android powered phones doing almost exactly what Apple describes.

It isn’t clear whether Apple is applying for this face unlock patent to keep the right to use the technology themselves, to keep Google from using it, or for another reason entirely. No matter what the case, given the recent state of things, it would be surprising to see this situation end without some sort of lawsuit.

How do you think this will end?

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