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Apple may have found a way to eliminate the iPhone’s notch without killing Face ID

Updated Mar 10th, 2020 7:29AM EDT
iPhone 12 Release Date
Image: Ray Tang/LNP/Shutterstock

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The notch is the best design compromise Apple ever made — well, that, and the camera bump on the back of iPhones. It may be hideous, but the notch on every iPhone that Apple has launched since the iPhone X houses a sophisticated system of cameras and sensors that brings 3D face recognition to iPhone. And that’s the kind of feature I’d take any day over Touch ID or an equivalent fingerprint-based security system.

Put another way, the Galaxy S20 is absolutely gorgeous with its tiny hole-punch camera. It’s the all-screen design that Apple can’t deliver yet, at least not without sacrificing Face ID functionality. That’s why the iPhone 12 will still have a notch at the top. But Apple is reportedly working on a brand new camera tech that will allow it to significantly reduce the notch bezel without ditching face unlock functionality.

Several Android vendors are already working on under-display cameras, and some of them have even shown off working prototypes. However, the technology isn’t ready for prime time, as the selfie quality can’t even come to matching modern phones. With such tech in place, Apple could one day put all of the Face ID sensors under the display. But Apple is also researching a brand new tech that wouldn’t require such sophisticated screens.

Instead, Apple will borrow a type of camera system we’ve already seen on various flagships over the past couple of years, with the Galaxy S20 Ultra being the latest to use it. But Apple will use it differently.

Well-known leaker Max Weinbach, who revealed all of the Galaxy S20’s secrets weeks ago, talked to EverythingApplePro about Apple’s iPhone 12 camera plans. In the process, he also revealed that Apple is trying to relocate all the Face ID components inside a periscope camera lens system. This would let Apple shrink the size of the top bezel occupied by the notch without removing the Face ID functionality from the iPhone. As a reminder, here’s how complicated the TrueDepth camera system really is:

Image source: Apple Inc.

Android handset makers, including Oppo, Huawei, and Samsung, have used periscope cameras to improve optical and digital zoom on flagship phones. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is the latest example of an Android phone with a periscope lens. Using a periscope camera for everything inside the notch sounds like science fiction. Still, we have no way of knowing if it’s possible, because nobody has done it — and remember, this is just one report.

Then again, nobody had 3D face recognition on phones before Apple did. Many will point out that Google did face unlock first on Android phones, and that’s absolutely true. The same people should also tell you that 2D face unlock can be easily circumvented, and isn’t accepted as an authentication method by apps that handle sensitive data, like internet banking. It took Google two more years to replicate Apple’s Face ID, and the Pixel 4’s Face unlock didn’t even copy Apple’s security measures perfectly — you could unlock the phone with your eyes closed.

Getting back to the rumor at hand, the report notes that Apple’s notch-shrinking tech isn’t expected to debut this year, and we might not see it inside an actual retail iPhone for several years. You can check out EverythingApplePro’s take on the rumor in the clip below:

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.