Apple Has Reduced Accuracy Of iPhone X Face ID To Overcome Production Problems
Apple who are struggling to deliver their new iPhone X have moved to reduce the reduce the accuracy of the face-recognition technology to make it easier to manufacture according to sources.
The less accurate Face ID will still be far better than the existing Touch ID with some insiders claiming that it also reduces the manufacturing cost of the iPhone X for Apple.
About a month ago, Foxconn Technology Group pulled as many as 200 workers off an iPhone X production line. Apple was struggling to get sufficient components for the phone and needed fewer people to put it together.
The main culprit, the people said, was the 3-D sensor that recognizes faces and unlocks the handset. Foxconn declined to comment.
Bloomberg claims that Apple’s decision to downgrade the technology in the iPhone X shows how hard it’s becoming for Apple to create cutting-edge features Vs Samsung who are a manufacturing powerhouse who along with LG and Sharp, Apple are relying on to deliver components for their devices.
With the iPhone X set to debut on Nov. 3 Apple has been forced to issue a press statement urging people to line up at their stores for the device even though there will be less than 4 million units available worldwide at launch. ChannelNews has been told that Apple is keen to get people to pre-order.
A dot projector which is a key component used in the new iPhone X is at the heart of Apple’s production problems.
In September, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was having trouble producing the modules that combine to make the dot projector, causing shortages.
The dot projector uses something called a vertical cavity surface-emitting laser, or VCSEL. The laser beams light through a lens known as a wafer-level optic, which focuses it into the 30,000 points of infra-red light projected onto the user’s face. The laser is made of gallium arsenide, a semiconductor material, and the lens is constructed of glass; both are fragile and easily broken.
Precision is key. If the microscopic components are off by even several microns, a fraction of a hair’s breadth, the technology might not work properly, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Bloomberg said that to make matters worse, Apple lost one of its laser suppliers early on. Finisar failed to meet Apple’s specifications in time for the start of production, and now the company is racing to meet the standards by the end of October.
The fragility of the components created problems for LG Innotek. and Sharp, both of which struggled to combine the laser and lens to make dot projectors. At one point only about, 20 percent of the dot projectors the two companies produced were usable, according to a person familiar with the manufacturing process. LG Innotek and Sharp slowed the production process down to prevent breakages and ensure the components were assembled with the required level of precision.
LG Innotek confirmed in a conference call with analysts overnight that there has been a problem with yield and that mass production is just beginning. The current modules are “significantly” more difficult to produce than previous cameras, said Kim Jong-ho, who oversees the South Korean supplier’s optical solution division. He said manufacturing has improved enough to meet the iPhone X launch date, though supply may be limited, and stressed Innotek has been able to achieve a “far stronger” yield than a rival supplier—a reference to Sharp. The Japanese company declined to comment.
Another manufacturing problem for Apple is the sensor used in the Face ID mechanism.
The problematic sensor was always going to be a major technical challenge. Until the iPhone X, the most significant deployment of the technology was in Microsoft’s Kinect controller, which the Xbox console used to detect a gamer’s movements. But the Kinect was the size of a large book, and Microsoft sold just 24 million units of the controller over two years.
Chief Design Officer Jony Ive said in an onstage discussion hosted by The New Yorker this month. “We had prototypes that were this big,” he added, holding his hands about a foot apart. By the time Apple had greenlighted the iPhone X, the company was looking for technology that could be squeezed into a space a few centimetres across and millimetres deep.
“That technology is something we have been looking at for five years,”
Despite demanding the near impossible, Apple didn’t add extra time to get it right—giving suppliers the typical two-year lead time. 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, said this person, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss an internal matter. “It’s an aggressive design,” the person said, “and it’s a very aggressive schedule.”
Besides struggling to produce enough 3-D sensors, Apple has suffered from a dearth of suppliers capable of making organic light-emitting diode displays, Bloomberg reported last year. The OLED, which delivers sharper images, is the iPhone X’s other main advance. But Apple is dependent on Samsung for its entire supply of the components.
For months, Apple investors have fretted that a shortage of iPhone Xs would send consumers into the arms of rival smartphone makers such as Samsung and Huawei who are now launching a major competitor to the iPhone X at nearly half the price.
Currently Sharp is working to bring the production yield for dot projectors above 50 percent, while LG has already surpassed that level, which both companies consider acceptable.
Meanwhile, Apple is working with Taiwan’s Himax Technologies to boost production of lenses to make up for lower-than-needed output from other suppliers.
The 3-D sensor shortage is expected to end in early 2018. Even so, signs of weakness in iPhone 8 sales means Apple could sell fewer handsets than last year—despite all the fanfare surrounding the iPhone X.