Apple will begin accepting pre-orders for the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus on Friday, September 15 at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time or 3:01 a.m. Eastern Time in the United States, according to the company’s website. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus will launch simultaneously in all first wave launch countries, so pre-orders will kick off at 8:01 a.m. in the United Kingdom and 3:01 p.m. in Hong Kong, for example.
While there are many who may be waiting for the iPhone X, customers planning to buy an iPhone 8 or an iPhone 8 Plus should attempt to pre-order early as it’s not clear what available supply looks like.
There were rumors suggesting that supplies of the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus would be constrained alongside the iPhone X, and Plus models in particular are often in short supply.
Apple will accept pre-orders both on its Apple.com website and in the Apple Store app. The Apple Store app often comes back online earlier than Apple.com and is easier to use when ordering.
Other stores and carriers, like Best Buy, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, are also likely to begin accepting iPhone 8 pre-orders on September 15 at 12:01 a.m.
iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus first wave launch countries include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, UAE, the UK, the US and US Virgin Islands. In all of these locations, the two new devices will be available for pre-order on September 15 with general availability coming on September 22.
Pricing on the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus begins at $699 and $799, respectively. Pricing for iPhone Upgrade Program customers starts at $34.50 for iPhone 8 and $39.50, and Apple today began offering pre-approvals for iPhone Upgrade Program users who want a streamlined ordering experience.
Though a specific pre-order time is not listed for the Apple Watch Series 3 nor the Apple TV 4K, both are also likely to be available for order at 12:01 a.m. alongside the iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus.
The iPhone X, Apple’s new $999 flagship iPhone, will not be available for pre-order until October 27 ahead of a November 3 launch.
Related Roundups: iPhone 8, iPhone X
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Why it matters to you
The practically pure green diode will help make future screen displays even sharper.
Not all greens are created equal. There’s lime green, mint green, British racing green. And now there’s practically pure green, thanks to chemical engineers at ETH Zurich, who have created the world’s greenest green. They say it will improve color quality in the ultra high-definition displays of the future.
“To date, no one has succeeded in producing green light as pure as we have,” Chih-Jen Shih, a chemical engineering professor who co-created the light-emitting diode in his lab, said in a statement.
The screens of today’s ultra high-def (UHD) TVs, computers, and smartphones are a sight to behold, and yet there’s still room for improvement. But, in order to make that progress, researchers first have to develop pure red, blue, and green light, which will be able to display images in unparalleled detail and with more nuanced color ranges. Pure red and blue have been achieved, according to the researchers, but green remained elusive until now.
This is because the human eye is able to pick up more green hues than we can with red and blue.
“This makes the technical production of ultra-pure green very complex, which creates challenges for us when it comes to developing technology and materials,” said Sudhir Kumar, who helped Shih create the light in his lab.
The purity of Shih and Kumar’s green can be grasped by comparing it to the technical standards, known as Rec. 2020. The purest TV displays currently available don’t exceed 80 percent, and average between 73.11 and 77.72. The ETH Zurich green falls within the 97 and 99 range.
But Shih and his team’s efforts didn’t stop there. They also created an ultra-thin, bendable light-emitting diode that can emit this pure green light at room temperature, whereas previous LED technology required high temperatures to generate the pure light.
“Because we were able to realize the entire process at room temperature, we’ve opened up opportunities for the simple, low-cost industrial production of ultra-green light-emitting diodes in the future,” said co-creator Jakub Jagielski.
As with most breakthroughs, there’s a bit of a catch — the LED converts electricity to light at just three percent efficiency, compared to commercial TV screen, which work at five to ten percent. That means he and his team will have to focus on making their technology more efficient before it’s ready for commercial application.
A paper detailing the research was published in the journal Nano Letters.
Why it matters to you
Insiders on the Fast Ring can stay up to date on all of the latest bug fixes with this release.
Following an issue which prevented it from being downloaded, Microsoft has fixed up its latest Windows 10 Insider preview build, 16288, and has now made it available to all Fast Ring Insiders. As with some of its other recent releases, this one is all about the bug fixes, shoring up all flaws and holes in the run-up to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update release.
Although originally scheduled for release early on September 12, the Insider Build 16288 didn’t become available to all Fast Ring Insiders (not those who have skipped ahead) until around 10:30 p.m PT (thanks OnMSFT). Purportedly there was an issue that prevented some from downloading the build, which Microsoft quickly corrected.
Now that it’s out in the wild though, this build should fix up a lot of outstanding bugs and issues with Windows systems. In its blog post on the matter, Microsoft details the 35-plus unique bug fixes, which were broken down into different categories.
Improvements to the Windows Shell have led to bug fixes in Facebook Messenger, local app search with Cortana, and have fixed an outstanding problem with notifications issued during a system lock. Input improvements include situations where incorrect characters were being inputted when using a full touch keyboard layout or a couple of handwriting panel options, and the improvements also addressed problems with certain non-Western typesets.
Although the Windows Insider program isn’t aimed at gamers, there were a couple of gaming-related fixes in this latest release. Ghost Recon: Wildlands now has a fixed Easy Anti-Cheat component and Skyrim’s Mod Organizer should now load mods correctly.
Launching alongside the desktop release of Windows Insider Build 16288 is its mobile counterpart, Build 15250. While its PC counterpart might be aimed at fixing up problems, the portable one is much more security focused. It adds two-factor authentication for unlocking a Windows 10 mobile device. Aimed more at enterprise users, the feature requires not only a standard pin code to unlock but a secondary, user-chosen credential. One given example is an NFC tag, making it a location-specific login system.
This build also improves a number of aspects of the VPNs on Windows Mobile, as well as more specific fixes with a fingerprint reader on the HP Elite X3 and a strange corruption issue that sometimes affected call history when a user upgraded.
Android 8.0 Oreo, the latest version of Google’s Android operating system, has a picture-in-picture (PiP) mode that shrinks videos down to a resizeable window. It’s like the PiP setting on your flat-screen TV, but for apps.
It can be a little tricky setting it up on your phone, but what’s worse is how it won’t work for any app. Developers have to implement picture-in-picture mode on a case-by-case basis. We’ve compiled a list of popular supported apps so far, and we explain how to use picture-in-picture mode in Android 8.0 Oreo.
Apps that support Android 8.0 Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode
It isn’t always clear whether an app supports Android 8.0 Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode, as it’s incumbent on developers to specify on the app’s Play Store description, but not all of them have.
To make matters a bit simpler, we’ve compiled a list of popular apps that support Android 8.0 Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode. It’s not exhaustive, but it should help get you started.
- Google Play Movies & TV
- Google Duo
- Google Maps
How to launch Android 8.0’s Picture-in-Picture Mode
There isn’t a predictable way to launch Android 8.0 Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode. Most apps switch to a floating window view with a tap of Android’s home button, but that’s not always the case.
Take Google Chrome, for example. To get picture-in-picture mode working properly, you have to watch a video in fullscreen mode before tapping the home button. In VLC, you have to tap the app’s menu button and the picture-in-picture option while the video’s playing.
YouTube is another matter entirely. As of publication time, YouTube’s picture-in-picture mode requires $10-a-year subscription to YouTube Red, YouTube’s premium ad-free service.
To figure out how to launch an app’s picture-in-picture mode, you’ll have to play around in the app or the app’s settings.
How to use Android 8.0 Picture-in-Picture Mode’s controls
Android 8.0 Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode puts playback controls front and center. Tap on the PiP window and you’ll see play, fast forward, and rewind buttons, and a center button that maximizes the app. If you’re watching a video from YouTube or VLC, you’ll get a headphone shortcut that plays the video in the background. And if you’re watching a playlist, tapping the fast forward button skips to the next video in the list.
When you’re done with the playback controls, tapping on the window again hides them.
The picture-in-picture window is moveable. Tap, hold, and drag to move it to any part of your phone or tablet’s screen, and lift your finger to release it. If you let go somewhere in the middle, the window snaps to the closest valid location.
When you’re ready to dismiss it, a simple tap, hold, and drag to the bottom of the screen does the trick.
How to disable Android 8.0 Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode for specific apps
Android 8.0 Oreo’s picture-in-picture mode might be useful for multitasking, but it can be annoyingly easy to trigger by mistake. Luckily, you can disable picture-in-picture mode on a per-app basis.
Here’s how to do it:
- Open the Settings menu on your phone or tablet.
- Tap Apps & Notifications, and then tap on the Advanced menu.
- Tap Special App Access.
- Look for the picture-in-picture option and tap on it.
- You’ll see a list of all installed apps that support picture-in-picture. They’re enabled by default; to disable one, tap it and slide the Allow picture-in-picture toggle to off.
Everyone likes Apple apps, but sometimes the best ones are a bit expensive. Now and then, developers put paid apps on sale for free for a limited time, but you have to snatch them up while you have the chance. Here are the latest and greatest iOS app deals available from the iOS App Store.
These apps normally cost money and this sale lasts for a limited time only. If you go to the App Store and it says the app costs money, that means the deal has expired and you will be charged.
Action Tasks is an artisanal to-do list app that makes completing your tasks fun and rewarding with action sounds and force feedback.
Amazingly beautiful 3D images of our planet draws your attention for so long that you may forget that this application has other useful features that grant you easy access to precise global weather information.
7 Minutes Workout Program
7 Minutes Workout Program features more than 20 different exercises, and each workout lasts 7 minutes maximum. You can also customize your own workout settings, and exercise without even looking at the phone.
There’s no need DSLR camera to create bokeh effects now. You can have bokeh photos instantly with this app. Just snap a picture on your iPhone and filter it through this easy-to-use tool.
This app, my.eggbite, tracks and records your activities and achievements. Record elapsed time, distance, altitude, speed, and minimum and maximum speed, no matter what you’re doing.
Phoenix Photo Editor
Phoenix is a powerful and fast photo editor with a bunch of editing tools, and importing and sharing options. With Phoenix you will have all the freedom to customize your photos with pretty filters, effects, borders, and fonts.
Why it matters to you
It’s a good start, but Nintendo needs to make more substantial changes to its chat service for it to be useful.
The Nintendo Switch uses a dedicated smartphone app in order to facilitate voice chat, instead of using a built-in program like just about every other modern console. Up to this point, the app has been severely limited, not even allowing users to continue talking if their phones went to sleep, but this is no longer the case.
The latest update for the Nintendo Switch Online app, which you can download now on both iOS and Android devices, allows you to continue talking in voice chat even if your device goes into sleep mode or its screen is locked. Previously, doing so would call your call to end abruptly. The same is also true for using other apps at the same time — you can now check texts or look at Twitter without ending a call with your friend in Splatoon 2.
The Nintendo support page stresses, however, that calls will still end if the app you’re using has audio output, so watching a YouTube video could cause problems. On newer Android devices using power-saving features, you’ll also need to disable battery optimization to guarantee that your calls aren’t ended prematurely, as well.
To some, however, this is still going to be a Band-Aid solution to a larger problem. Without a traditional voice chat program available on the Nintendo Switch, it’s impossible for players to chat if the two aren’t playing the same game. Given the size of the Switch’s library, this isn’t a huge issue right now, but as more games are released and players’ game collections begin to vary, friends won’t be playing the same games with each other as frequently. Right now, it still makes far more sense to just Skype chat with your buddies, as you don’t have to hook your phone up with a confusing series of wires. In many ways, the Wii U’s infrastructure was more convenient than the Switch’s, even offering a simple video chat application.
Will the recent update make you more likely to use the Nintendo Switch Online app to chat with friends, or will you stick with a third-party option? With Nintendo Switch Online transitioning to a paid subscription service in 2018, Nintendo still has its work cut out for it.
Odds are the speakers that came with your computer or built into your monitor aren’t that great. Today is a perfect day to upgrade them by adding ELEGIANT’s USB-powered soundbar to your setup for just $22.49. This is the lowest price the soundbar has ever sold for, and about $8 less than its average selling price.
For $29.99 you can pick up the wireless version of the soundbar, which is probably worth the extra few dollars.
With over 700 reviews at Amazon, it maintains a 4.3 out of 5-star rating. Some of its features include:
- It offers users a low profile, stylish sound solution that matches the styling of various monitors with convenient USB power.
- The headphone jack that allows users to enjoy audio from their favorite games, music and movies, without sacrificing valuable desk space.
- The USB-powered device makes it easy to use your speaker through USB port, eliminating the need for batteries or a power cord.The cable is about 1.2 meter (4 ft) long. If you want to make it longer you should get the extension cords connected.
- You can simply plug in the speaker to an open USB port in your computer and get started using the drive without the need to install any software.
- It provides high-performance quality sound so you’ll be able to enjoy your speakers as soon as you plug it in. This sound bar is designed for computer according to the computer power which means 3Wx2 will be suitable.
This pricing is only good for today, so be sure to grab one before it jumps back up to the regular price.
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More from Thrifter:
- Tips for becoming an expert eBay seller
- How to maximize your Amazon Prime membership
For more great deals on tech, gadgets, home goods and more, be sure to check out our friends at Thrifter now!
It’s the battle of the best streaming boxes! Android TV vs. tvOS!
Sandwiched between the new Apple Watch and iPhone announcement, Apple announced the latest version of its streaming box, the Apple TV 4K. It’s a big improvement over the current generation of Apple TV boxes — but how does it stack up against the reigning king of Android TV, the NVIDIA Shield TV? Let’s take a look!
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Apple has significantly boosted the processing power in the Apple TV 4K compared to its predecessors, including the A10X Fusion processor that’s been powering the latest iPad Pro. But beyond the upgraded processor, how does the Apple TV 4K stack up to the NVIDIA Shield Pro’s impressive specs? It’s pretty balanced except in a few categories — internal storage and compatibility with accessories.
The Shield TV Pro includes two USB-A ports on the back that can be used to connect or charge accessories. It also supports expandable storage via the aforementioned USB ports or with the included microSD card slot.
|Operating system||tvOS 11||Android TV 7.0 NougatGoogle Cast|
|Processor||A10 X Fusion||NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor256-core Maxwell GPU|
|Storage||32GB or 64GB||16GB / 500GB (Pro) Adoptable storage over USB or microSD|
|Video output||4K, HDR, 60fps||4K, HDR, 60fps|
|Audio output||Up to Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound||Dolby Atmos and DTS-X surround sound over HDMIHigh-resolution audio playback up to 24-bit/192kHz over HDMI|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11ac with MIMOBluetooth 4.0 IR reciever||Wi-Fi 802.11ac dual-band, 2×2 MIMOBluetooth 4.1 LEIR receiver|
|Ports||Gigabit ethernetHDMI 2.0a||USB-A 3.0 (2), Gigabit ethernet, Micro-USB, microSDHDMI 2.0b w/ HDCP 2.2 and CEC|
|Assistant||Siri||Google Assistant (coming soon)|
|Dimensions||98 x 98 x 35 mm 425g||98 x 159 x 26mm (130 x 210 x 25mm Pro)250g (654g Pro)|
|Price||$179 (32GB) $199 (64GB)||$199 (16GB), $299 (Pro)|
Streaming video and music has completely changed the way we enjoy our favorite media, and there’s a ton of different ways to stream content — whether from Netflix, Hulu, Spotify or any of the countless other streaming services and apps out there. The benefit of owning a dedicated streaming box like the Apple TV or NVIDIA Shield is that it’s always ready to serve your streaming needs without requiring you to connect a laptop to your TV or sift through clunky apps on your favorite video game console. Both offer 4K streaming and HDR quality (as long as you have a 4K TV, too), so let’s look at the differences in the content offered.
Apple will be automatically upgrading all HD iTunes content to 4K where possible.
Apple TV’s offerings are largely centralized around what’s available on iTunes and Apple Music, so they typically lead with that content first. With the launch of the Apple TV 4K, Apple will be automatically upgrading any HD content you’ve bought through iTunes to the 4K version if you upgrade your setup to 4K, and that top-quality 4K content will remain the same price as the currently offered HD content. Beyond Apple’s offerings, most of your favorite streaming apps are available on tvOS, although Spotify and Amazon Prime Video are noticeably absent, though it is coming later this year.
Apple spent some time during the Apple TV portion of the keynote talking about the latest additions to the TV App, which gives you an all-in-one place for all your favorite streaming apps (excluding Netflix, for some reason). This app will be launching in seven new countries by the end of the year, starting with Australia and Canada in September. Apple also boasted the inclusion of live sports in the TV app, which will be compelling to those with a cable subscription — but a whole lot of nothing for those of us who’ve cut out cable completely. Both the TV app and Apple’s library of downloadable content is available across all iOS devices, too, so you can take things on the go with you if you’re fully bought into the Apple platform.
The NVIDIA Shield TV matches Apple TV’s available streaming options, with equivalent Google Play Movies & TV services for renting and owning digital content if that’s your thing. There’s also great support for all your favorite streaming services — Spotify and Amazon Prime Video included — and although Android TV lacks an equivalent all-in-one TV app (an admittedly cool idea from Apple) the Shield home screen does a pretty decent job recommending content from across your favorite streaming apps.
NVIDIA has gone a step beyond for cord cutters by including fantastic integration for setting up a Plex Media Server on the Shield TV Pro.
But NVIDIA has also gone a step beyond for those cord cutters out there who’ve stockpiled their own favorite TV shows and movies on external hard drives. Thanks to wonderful integration with premium Plex features, you’re able to set up your NVIDIA Shield to act as a Plex Media Server. There’s a Plex app for Apple TV, too, for streaming content from your Plex server, but the 500GB of internal storage on the NVIDIA Shield Pro makes it a compelling storage option for your favorite TV shows and movies — which you can then stream from your Shield to Plex apps on your other devices.
The Shield Pro also works great as a Chromecast, although Google Home won’t recognize it as such which is disappointing, and also offers support for OTA tuners for watching live TV without a cable subscription.
Really, you’re only better off with an Apple TV 4K if you already own and use other Apple devices like an iPhone or an iPad, or if you own a deep library of content through iTunes. Otherwise, Android TV lets you do more overall with better customization for how you consume your — and there’s no better Android TV box than the NVIDIA Shield TV Pro.
If part of your consideration deciding between an Apple TV or NVIDIA Shield TV comes down to gaming, it’s no contest — NVIDIA markets the Shield as “the streamer for gamers” and has designed the Shield TV Pro with specs capable of playing (and streaming) a growing library of titles being ported to the Google Play Store as well as AAA titles via GameStream which allows you to stream games from your PC to your living room, not to mention the GeForce NOW subscription service that allows you to the latest games to your Shield.
While there are some great games on the Apple TV, the Shield TV offers a better experience out of the box.
NVIDIA simply offers the better gaming experience right out of the box, starting with the obvious stuff like including an actual honest-to-goodness gaming controller. Apple sells a quality controller made by SteelSeries, but only includes the Siri Remote with the box.
Whereas Apple really pushes its exclusive offerings via iTunes and Apple Music on the Apple TV platform, NVIDIA follows a similar strategy with gaming on the Shield. Sure, Apple does manage to use the clout of these keynotes to snag exclusivity on some games such as Sky, which was unveiled during the keynote. It’s a cooperative multiplayer game developed by the team behind the gorgeous game Journey — and an Apple-exclusive title for the time being. But as a company best known for making cutting edge gaming graphic cards, gaming really is NVIDIA’s bread and butter, and you simply won’t find better gaming options on another box TV console that isn’t a PS4 or Xbox One.
Another area that’s close, but ultimately where Apple takes the win, is when comparing the A10X Fusion chip with the NVIDIA Tegra X1 processor. While the X1 is still a fantastic, dynamic and gaming-focused piece of silicon, the A10X has it beat for absolute power and GPU performance, and that may count for something if you take your gaming seriously.
If you’re after getting the bigger bang for your buck, Apple can’t be beaten. The NVIDIA Shield TV Pro is priced at $299, while the 16GB standard NVIDIA Shield TV box is still a whopping $199.
Compare that to Apple’s offering — $179 for the 32GB model and $199 for the 64GB model. Is the NVIDIA Shield TV Pro worth the extra $100? That will depend on your streaming and gaming habits. If you’re a heavy streamer that’s cut the cord and looking for maximum flexibility and customization for accessing your favorite content (including ample internal storage and optional expandable storage via USB or microSD), investing the extra money in the Shield might make sense — especially if you throw in all the cool features for gamers.
Which is better?
Sure, call us biased but we’ve got to give the nod to the NVIDIA Shield TV Pro as the superior option whether you rock an Android or an iPhone. Apple TV 4K is going to be a great upgrade for those already fully bought into the Apple ecosystem, as it matches the Shield’s 4K HDR output while also building on features for accessing content across iOS devices. Meanwhile, you can simply do more with the NVIDIA Shield TV Pro, with the convenience of the Shield’s Chromecast capabilities available whether you’re on Android or iOS.
The Shield is pricier, yes, but you get what you pay for with the extra storage space, included gaming controller and all that extra computing power available for top-quality game streaming. And while Apple may claim that the Apple TV 4K is pushing living room streaming into new territory with its 4K HDR output, in reality, they’ve only just caught up to the competition.
Do you agree with our assessment? Sound off in the comments.
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NVIDIA Shield Android TV
- Read our Shield Android TV review
- The latest Shield Android TV news
- Shield vs. Shield Pro: Which should I buy?
- Join the forum discussion
- Complete Shield Android TV specs
Amazon UK is offering a six-month Prime trial to eligible students in the UK, followed by 50 percent off the price of Prime for a year. Here’s what you need to know.
If you happen to be returning to school or starting a new placement in the UK, you’ll want to check out this promotion currently underway at Amazon. The online retail giant is offering students the opportunity to sign up for a six-month trial of Amazon Prime, which is followed by an annual fee of just £39, a 50 percent discount on the usual price.
During the six-month trial, you get access to all benefits normal members enjoy, including:
- Unlimited one-day delivery.
- Stream thousands of movies and TV shows.
- Access exclusive student offers, including 10 percent off textbooks.
- Listen to more than two million songs.
- Early access to lightning deals.
And when the trial comes to an end you have the option to purchase an entire year of Prime for just £39. That’s impressive.
Sign up to Amazon Prime today!
Using your face as a password just got a little more exciting.
At the September 2017 Apple event, the iPhone X was revealed. It seems like Apple went all out on its “Anniversary” model, and one of the new features is Face ID.
Unlocking your phone with your face isn’t exactly new. Android has had the feature for a while, and Samsung has used a special iris scanner since the Galaxy Note 7. But Apple is doing things very differently, as it is wont to do. Rather than use a pattern to create an unlocking token, Apple is using the shape of your face. And it has some pretty specialized hardware in place to do it.
I haven’t used the iPhone X just yet, but this is an area where I have a good bit of experience. Modulated acquisition of spatial distortion maps, then turning the acquired data into something a piece of software can use as a unique identifier has been around for a while, and products you have in your house right now were built, packaged or quality-checked using it. I’ve been involved in designing and deploying several systems that use depth image acquisition to sort produce (apples, peaches, plums, etc.) by grade, shape, and size and understand how the technology used in Face ID will work.
Android’s facial recognition
Face unlock debuted on the Galaxy Nexus in 2012.
Unlocking your phone with your face has been part of Android since version 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich. This is the least complicated and least secure of the three things we’re comparing.
Using the front facing camera, your Android phone can grab an image of your face and Google’s facial-recognition software then processes it to build a set of data based on the image. When you hold the phone to your face to unlock it, an image is collected, processed and compared to the stored data. If the software can match both of them, a token is passed to the system so your phone will unlock.
Face unlocking came to Android in 2012, and Samsung has made it much better on their newest phones.
The data isn’t sent anywhere and is collected and processed all on the phone itself. It is stored securely and encrypted, and no other process is able to read the raw data. Android face unlocking also doesn’t need any special lights or sensors or cameras — it uses the same front-facing camera you use to take selfies with.
Samsung has improved the experience with the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 phones by starting scanning as soon as the screen is tapped, and the processing is faster and more accurate because of the better camera and CPU. Face unlock on the Galaxy S8 is fast and generally works well once you get a feel of how to hold the phone while you’re using it.
The biggest problem with face unlock is that it’s not secure. It’s not advertised as being secure, even by Google or Samsung. It’s a convenience feature that was built to showcase (and refine) Google’s facial recognition algorithms, and a printed photo of your face will defeat face unlock.
Thankfully, Samsung also offers an alternative way to recognize your face.
Samsung’s iris scanning
Samsung first brought iris scanning to the Galaxy line with the Galaxy Note 7. Having a computer scan your eyeballs to authenticate you is something we’ve all seen in movies, and it is used for secure entry in real government facilities. Samsung is using the same concept with its iris scanning system, just scaled back so it can work faster and work with the limited resources of a smartphone. It’s more than secure enough for your phone, even if it’s not 100% foolproof.
Every eye has a different pattern, and your right eye is even different than your left.
Every eye has a unique pattern in the iris.Your left eye even has a different pattern than your right. Iris patterns are actually more distinct than a fingerprint. Because every eye is unique, Samsung is able to use your eyes to identify you and act as your credentials. These credentials can be used for anything a fingerprint or even a passcode could. You hold the phone so the special camera can see your eyes and your phone will unlock.
To do this, Samsung is using specialized hardware on the face of the phone. A diode emits near-infrared light and illuminates your eyes. It’s a wavelength of light that humans can’t see but it’s fairly intense and “bright.” Near-infrared light is used for two reasons: your pupils won’t contract and you’ll have no change in vision, and it illuminates anything with a color pattern better than the wavelengths we can see. If you look closely at your iris you’ll see that there are hundreds of different colors in a distinct pattern. Under near infrared, there are thousands of colors and they contrast with each other very well. It’s just better for grabbing an image of your iris, because even though you don’t see any of this, your phone can and uses it to build a dataset.
Samsung uses near-infrared light and a special camera to collect and process data about your eyes.
Once the iris is illuminated, a specially tuned narrow-focus camera grabs an image. The regular front facing camera on your Galaxy S8 could register color information under infrared illumination, but it wasn’t designed to do it. That’s why a second camera is needed.
This image is analyzed and a distinct set of data is created and stored securely on your phone. All the processing, analyzing and storage of the data is done locally and is encrypted so only the process of recognizing your iris has access to it. This data is used to create a token, and if the iris scanner process provides the right token a security check was passed — those are your eyes, so any software that needs your identity is able to proceed.
Of course, Samsung also collects some data about your face using the normal front-facing camera. Most likely, the facial data is used to help position your face so the iris scanner has a clear view.
Your eyes need to be in the right spot to setup and use the iris scanner.
There are some inherent drawbacks. Because using iris scanning to unlock your phone needs to be very fast, not as much data is collected about the pattern in your eyes. Samsung had to find the right balance of security versus convenience and since nobody wants to wait five or 10 seconds for each scan, the iris scanning algorithms can be fooled with a high-resolution photo laser printed in color and a regular contact lens to simulate the curvature of an eye. But, honestly, nobody is going to have a photo of your eye that is clear enough to unlock your Galaxy S8 or Note 8. If they do, you have a much bigger problem on your hands.
Samsung’s iris scanning works well as long as your eyes are in the ‘sweet spot.’
The bigger issue is accuracy. Enough of your irises need to be analyzed to pass the software check, and because the camera that grabs the image for recognition has a very narrow focus there’s a “sweet spot” your eyes need to be in. You need to be in that sweet spot long enough to pass the checks. The system is of no use if it doesn’t collect enough data to prevent someone else’s eyes identify as you, so this is just how it has to work.
It’s a good system as far as biometric security goes, and for many it’s great. Only your eyes will work (ignoring the off chance some spy agency has photos of your eyeballs) and it’s fairly fast. You just have to learn to use it correctly — and yes, that typically comes as a result of many times holding your phone unnaturally high with your eyes wide open.
Apple’s Face ID
Apple has entered new territory when it comes to biometric security on a phone. It wasn’t so long ago that you needed specialized lighting, multiple cameras with special lenses and a very expensive image processing computer board for each of them to collect enough shape data for unique recognition. Now it’s done with some components on the face of the iPhone X, Apple’s new A11 chipset, and a separate system to crunch the numbers.
Face ID projects an intense infrared light to illuminate your face. Just like the light used by Samsung’s iris scanner, it’s a wavelength a human can’t see but it’s very “bright.” It’s like a flood light — an equal amount of light across a wide area that washes your face and will fall off quickly at the edges of your head.
Apple is trying something very different with Face ID and how it gathers data about your face.
While your face is illuminated, a matrix of infrared LED lasers is projected over your face. These LEDs use a wavelength of light that contrasts with the light used for illumination and thousands of individual points of light cover your face. As you move (and we can never be perfectly still) the points of light reflect the changes.
With your face illuminated with the infrared lamp and a light matrix is projected over it, a special camera is collecting image data. Every point of light is marked and as you move and they change, those changes are also logged. This is known as depth image acquisition using modulated pattern projection. It’s a great way to collect data that shows shape, edge detection, and depth while an object is in motion under any type of lighting conditions. A ton of data can be collected and used to show a distinct shape that can be recreated in 3D.
The data is then passed to what Apple is calling the A11 Bionic Neural Engine. It’s a separate subsystem with its own processor(s) that analyzes the data in real time as it is being collected. The data is used to recreate your face as a digital 3D mask. As your face moves, the mask also moves. It’s an almost perfect mimic, and Apple does an excellent job showing it off with its new iMessage animated emojis in iOS 11.
Face ID uses some of the same technology as Android phones with Tango.
For authentication purposes, the data set is also used to calculate a unique identifier. Just like Samsung’s iris scanner, Face ID securely stores this data and can compare it against what the special camera is seeing while Face ID is actively running. If the data set matches what the camera can see, the security check is passed and a token that verifies that “you are really you” is given to whatever process is asking for it.
While Apple is also making a few concessions to ensure Face ID is fast and easy, there are some clear advantages from a user perspective. Face ID is actually more secure because you’re moving (more data is being analyzed) and there is no “sweet spot” as all of your face is being used and the camera uses a wider field of view. The matrix projected on your face contrasts well against whatever is in the background because a sense of depth is used to isolate your face’s shape.
As a bonus, the shape data of your face in real time can be used for other purposes using what Apple calls the TrueDepth Camera system. We saw an example of this with the new portrait mode for selfies, the animated emojis, and Snapchat masks. Apple has built the Bionic Neural Engine in a way that it can share simple shape data with third party software without exposing the data it uses to build a secure identifying token.
Which is better?
We can’t say anything is really better until we’ve tried it.
Better is subjective, especially since we’ve not yet used Face ID or the iPhone X in the real world. For authentication purposes, the important thing is that the process is accurate and fast. Samsung’s iris scanner can be both as long as you point the phone so it can find the data it needs, but on paper, Face ID will be easier to use because it doesn’t need to lock on any particular spot to work. And for many of us neither is better and we would prefer a fingerprint sensor, which the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 both still have.
Whichever you prefer, there’s little doubt that Apple has outclassed the competition in this regard. Extensive hardware to build and collect data about your face’s shape and features, combined with its own processing system to analyze it all more akin to Tango than any previous facial recognition we’ve seen on a phone. I’m excited to see this level of technology come to mobile devices, and can’t wait to see how future products build on what we see from Apple.
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