The Future is Now! Facial Detection in iOS5 and its Potential for New Apps

Looks like the tech press has turned into a group of detectives in the past couple of weeks. There was the famous hidden iPad Facebook app that MG Siegler of TechCrunch discovered, and now 9to5mac has found some hidden code in iOS5. This code seems to imply that Apple will be integrating some facial detection technology in the new version of its mobile platform.

According to  9to5, the APIs that they discovered are “Highly Sophisticated” and Mark Gurman explains “The first, called CIFaceFeature, can determine through an image where a person’s mouth and eyes are located. The second API, CIDetector, is a resource within the operating system that processes images for face detection.

The possibilities, assuming this story is actually true, are literally endless. If the iOS line of products has integrated facial detection, and more importantly, if developers can take advantage of a facial detection API to create facial recognition capabilities, we can expect to see a whole group of new types of apps populate the App Store.

Putting aside the integration into iOS itself, which can mean auto tagging of photos, as well as deep social integration with the device’s phone book, the new apps that will surface as soon as this API is available, are potentially seriously exciting.

My friend Darrell Etherington had some very interesting thoughts on the matter in his Gigaom post including Kinect-like functionality built into iOS. Now, that would be pretty cool.

For the record, as Bruce from Grizzly Analytics points out, there is a difference between face detection and facial recognition and the new API is actually the former, NOT the latter.

The following are just a few examples of app categories we can expect to see as soon as the iOS facial detection API is released to the general public of iOS developers:

Security Apps

Bye bye passwords, hello Minority Report. Seriously though, facial detection and recognition might still be considered futuristic and somewhat impractical, but there are already many companies that offer this technology, one of which Apple actually acquired in 2010.

Just imagine picking up your iPad and the device recognizing you based on your eyes or your facial structure. The iPad will then present your apps and configuration to you, all of which will completely change when your wife picks up the iPad.

Of course, this also means no one would be able to steal your iOS device because they will have no access, unless of course you lend them your eyeball or bone structure…

Caller ID Apps

One of the ideas someone said they would love to see when I asked on Google+ about this post, is Rapportive for calls. Rapportive is a Gmail plugin that gives you data of the person you are corresponding with and includes that person’s social profiles across the Web.

With a face detection API, a developer can theoretically create an app that when installed on both the caller and the recipient’s phone, will essentially take a picture of the caller and offer the recipient all the information they need about the person calling.

For this to work, the caller does not have to be in the address book of the recipient, which is of course the major difference between this concept and the caller ID we have today.

Reader Apps

OK, this one is insanely far fetched now, but is completely possible with facial recognition. Imagine you are reading your daily news on your iPad using a Flipboard-like app. Now imagine your eye keeps wandering to the articles about the new iPhone coming out in a few months. The app will then take the data based on your eye movement, and display more relevant content next time you open the app.

In fact, taking it one step further, the app can analyze your face, determine what kind of mood you are in and display content accordingly. Like I said above, the potential for this new API is quite literally endless.

Video Calling Apps

We already discussed the different options to make video calls on iPhone and Android, but the possibilities here with facial recognition are really exciting.

Just imagine Google+ Hangouts on your iPhone that knows how to recognize who is talking and can present you with real time data of all the participants of a video call.

Take it one step further and imagine an iPhone app that enables you to meet people (possibly for dating purposes) based on facial features. You input the type of face that you are attracted to either by taking a picture of someone or drawing it, and the app then finds people for you to video chat with (or just to meet) based on the data you provided.

Crime Prevention Apps

A few years ago, I heard one of the founder of Face.com, a leading company in the facial recognition space, pitch his company to an audience. When asked what the business model was, he jokingly replied, “With our technology, we can find Bin Laden and collect the reward. There is the business model!”. Now a few years later, here we are, talking about facial recognition possibly becoming an integral part of a leading mobile operating system.

Imagine a scenario that you meet someone and want to do a quick and dirty background check on them. You wait for the second they are not looking and snap a photo. Your phone then cross references that photo with all the databases of the law enforcement agencies in your country and tells you everything you need to know about that person. Voila, you have become Jack Bauer.

Of course, privacy issues are going to become a big question if any of this comes to fruition, but if someone is a recognized sex offender or has a police record, you deserve to know about it, if you are out on a date with that person, don’t you think?

These are just some wild ideas I am throwing out there, but again, there are so many other possibilities. In fact, as a person who works in mobile advertising, the ability to track facial movements can have an unprecedented effect on user behavior and how people engage with mobile ads.

We are living in exciting times!

Author: Hillel Fuld

"Hillel is a tech blogger who manages multiple sites such as Technmarketing, Appboy, and inneractive. In addition, Hillel has written on many leading online publications such as Mashable, Gigaom, and others. In addition to his blogger hat, Hillel is an active Twitter personality who defines himself as a "Social media addict". When Hillel is not blogging or tweeting, he is the Head of Marketing for inneractive, a mobile startup that deals with app monetization across all mobile platforms."

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