iPhone 6 rumour rollup for the week ending December 9

iPhone 6 rumour rollup for the week ending December 9

"Future iPhones may unlock, hide messages based on a user's face" ... Really?

The iOSphere sizzled as heated speculation and anticipation of the iPhone 6 being able to detect and recognize your face kept spirits buoyant. Though why remains a mystery.

A recent Apple company acquisition continued spawning rumors that Apple will cast a web and a spell of 3D environmental sensors that will tell you the size of your refrigerator, whether the person ringing your doorbell is an old friend that you've not seen for a long time, and whether you're using too many cups of flour in your cake batter. No fooling.

You read it here second.

iPhone 6 will have face detection and face recognition capability

This rumor is based on a much more mundane event: The government published a patent awarded to Apple for a "personal computing device control using face detection and recognition," as Mikey Campbell reported for AppleInsider.

The post's headline sparked that excess of patent adoration that periodically billows through the iOSphere: "Future iPhones may unlock, hide messages based on a user's face". The idea that iPhone 6 would use this invention to know whether the person looking at the screen was an "authorized user" and then allow or block incoming calls or messages was deeply thrilling to some. "This particular example makes our knees buckle in excitement, but it seems we have to wait for almost half a year before we find out if this rumor is true," confessed the anonymous staff writer posting at Kpopstarz, the New York City-based "comprehensive Korean pop entertainment news website."

Campbell sticks to the facts, or at least to the text of the patent. "As noted in the document, face detection and recognition are two different processes," he explains helpfully. "Detection involves locating faces within an image, while recognition goes deeper by pairing those faces with a particular person or user. Typically, facial recognition follows detection."

Anyone with a dog already knows this.

Next, Campbell explains what it all means. Detecting and recognizing a face is "a property that looks to beef up device security as well as make the computing experience more convenient for users." (Or, for dog owners, to beef up the facial licking experience and make the endorphin enhancing experience of unconditional love more intense.) So it must be a good and even necessary advancement in the mobile experience.

And Apple's invention is part of a trend! "[F]acial recognition is quickly gaining momentum in the consumer electronics industry," Campbell writes. "The new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 gaming consoles tout the feature for user logins, while rival smartphone makers have toyed with the tech to varying degrees of success."

The Rollup is underwhelmed both with the invention itself and with its purported benefits. The new iPhone 5S just introduced the TouchID fingerprint scanning feature to lock/unlock the phone: Now we need a face scanning feature? We get it: It's all part of making mobile devices really, really smart, to anticipate your "needs."

At this rate, pretty soon Siri will be counseling us on relationships. "Theodore, you look sad, and I notice from your emails that you had a breakup recently. Want to talk about it?" There's a movie here.

iPhone 6 will be first smartphone with 3D "vision"

And that's just the beginning of a New Dawn of Smartphone Innovation for Apple, according to a gushing opinion piece in AdAge, by James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

[We're reaching back a bit further than a week for this once, since we missed it last time.]

McQuivey is assessing Apple's acquisition of Israel-based Primesense, which invented the motion sensing technology that Microsoft used in the Kinnect for Xbox 360.

But forget everything you know about that. "If you have followed Primesense, however, you know that its most recent advances have been in miniaturizing even further its system on a chip -- also called SOC -- for 3D sensing," McQuivey tells those of us who don't know. "If early indications are true, Primesense 3D sensing will soon be coming to a mobile phone near you. More specifically, the iPhone 6 could be the first mobile phone with true 3D vision -- giving Apple real, meaningful leadership in handsets."

And why would 3D sensing in iPhone 6 give Apple real, meaningful leadership in handsets ... overlooking for the moment that the current crop of iPhones are among the most successful smartphone models ever?

Because, says McQuivey, " a 3D sensing tool that you could use to snap an image of people, objects or things in motion to assess their size, structure, and even something about their mass."

That sounds ... technical.

"It sounds technical, but a phone with that capability could perhaps [take a] picture of your recently expired refrigerator, for example, and be able to immediately recommend new refrigerators that would fill the exact same space, not to mention match the colors in the rest of your kitchen," McQuivey explains. "That's a phone Apple and its developers could have a lot of fun with."

This example struck close to the bone for The Rollup, which is considering buying a larger, used refrigerator to replace the aging, smaller one in kitchen scheduled for quasi-improvement. It would be so, so much easier to snap a photo with a 3D-seeing iPhone than fiddle with a tape measure and pencil and paper. Talk about a breakthrough.

And there's more. "3D environmental sensing is more than just a gesture interaction tool," McQuivey explains, and "Apple would be uniquely positioned to fill your world with sensors... sensors in your kitchen, in your hallways, at your doorway, in your garage and on and inside your car. Sensors that Apple developers would then spend the next five years learning how to make come alive -- to alert you to the arrival of good friends you haven't seen in a long time, or to remind you that you only put two cups of flour into the cake batter instead of the three cups the recipe called for."

Combine this with voice interaction, and pretty soon Siri will be counseling us on not only healthy relationships but also healthy eating and improved cooking. "Theodore, you haven't talked with your good friends Sheila and Jason for 45.3 days. I've prepared an email so you can invite them over for a healthy dinner, and try out this recipe for low-fat babyback ribs." There's a movie here.

iPhone 6 will have a refocusable camera

Admit it: You don't really know what that means. And it seems like most of the iOSphere doesn't either but won't admit it.

This rumor is based on two things: a newly published Apple patent award and memory failure. The patent is for a "digital camera including refocusable imaging mode adaptor."

Technically, it's the image captured by the camera that can be refocused by software, a technique called light field photography. Network World's Mark Gibbs, writing in March 2012, has a good explanation of how it works, and a good explanation of how it's not all that it's cracked up to be in the only light field camera product on the market, from a company called Lytro.

The bottom line, according to Gibbs, is that "by analyzing many tiny images and then using software to cleverly manipulate and combine them into a single image, a light field camera can capture, in effect, an enormous depth of field. This means an image captured by a light field camera can be used to create other versions of the image with, in theory, any focal plane and depth of field." But one of the drawbacks is that this same process results in lower resolution images.

For this rumor, the Lytro connection is important because, as Ben Lovejoy at 9to5Mac reminds readers, Apple CEO Steve Jobs "met with Lytro CEO Ren Ng in the summer of 2011, was shown a demo of the company's Light Field camera and said that he wanted the company to work with Apple."

For what it's worth, the patented invention seems to combine Lytro's (or something like Lytro's) "low-resolution refocusable mode and a [more conventional] high-resolution non-refocusable mode," switching between them as needed or desired.

But the core of this rumor Apple adopting a light field camera for the iPhone has been around since at least January 2012, when The Rollup first covered it, under the headline "iPhone 5 will have such an awesome camera that we can't explain it."

Nearly two years later, there's still less to this rumor than meets the eyepiece.

iPhone 6 will still have a sapphire screen

Barely two weeks after a rumor re-appeared that Apple will adorn iPhone 6 with a tough-as-nails-or-concrete-or-whatever synthetic sapphire screen, it's getting a new lease on life, apparently simply because some rumor sites missed it the first time around.

The headline at TheWeek, declared "iPhone 6: Sapphire screen tougher than concrete'"

"Apple has spent more than half a billion dollars developing a sapphire crystal screen for the iPhone 6 that won't scratch even when rubbed against concrete, according to the latest reports," according to TheWeek.

While it's true that synthetic sapphire is pretty scratch resistant, it's not true that Apple has spent more than a half-billion dollars developing a sapphire crystal screen. That money, actually $578 million, was a prepayment to GT Advanced Technologies, as part of a strategic deal in which GT will place its advanced sapphire furnaces in a new Apple-owned facility in Arizona, to employ eventually "over 700 people," according to GT's own announcement.

Without being an expert on business financials, this seems to be a capital-related expense, part of the billions in capital spending Apple has been doing year after year with its Asian manufacturing partners and suppliers.

The GT announcement doesn't specify what the facility will actually be producing, so the belief that it will be building 4-inch diagonal panels -- or if you believe the various other rumors 4.3- or 4.7- or 4.8- or 5- or 5.5-inch panels -- for the Next iPhone is simply that: a belief unmoored to any fact.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.Twitter:

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

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