Is the Pixel 7 bringing back Face Unlock?


The first Pixel 7 rumors are already here, just as expected. Google has never been able to keep its Pixels secrets, and the Pixel 7 series is no different. We already saw detailed schematics for the unreleased handset that indicate Google will stick with the Pixel 6 design for one more year. Some tweaks will occur, but the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro should feature the same overall design as their predecessors. But could the Pixel 7 phones bring back Face Unlock?

Given the recent leaks, the most likely answer is that reviving Face Unlock won’t be easy. But a Pixel 6 user noticed that Google is still working on face recognition.

What is Face Unlock?

Face Unlock is Google’s equivalent of the iPhone’s Face ID. Both are marketing names for 3D face authentication: The most sophisticated and safest biometric login option available on smartphones.

Apple has used Face ID since the 2017 iPhone X, even if that meant cutting a large notch in the handset’s display. Google needed two years to copy the feature. But Google didn’t go for the notch design, so the 2019 Pixel 4 featured this hideous screen instead.

Pixel 4
Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone. Image source: Zach Epstein, BGR

The Pixel 4 featured a massive “forehead” bezel at the top because Google wanted its Face Unlock to be even more sophisticated than Face ID. The Pixel 4 shipped with a built-in radar system at the top, which it called the Project Soli chip. We all know what happened next: Google nixed the design. And Face Unlock and Project Soli died along with it.

With that in mind, it seems impossible for the Pixel 7 to feature Face Unlock support. The Pixel 6 features a hole-punch design that Pixel 7 phones will inherit. There’s no large bezel at the top where the Face Unlock components could fit.

Face Unlock appears in the Pixel 6 Pro screen lock setup
Face Unlock appears in the Pixel 6 Pro screen lock setup. Image source: Reddit

Strangely enough, a Pixel 6 Pro user has spotted the setup screen above. It specifically mentions the “Face” as an unlock system that users can set up on the handset. 9to5Google has dug into Android 12 for clues and found the setup screen has existed since the October 2021 build.

Moreover, the blog reminds us that German and UK retailers mentioned Face Unlock in marketing materials for the Pixel 6 last fall. Yet Google never enabled the feature.

How it might work on Pixel 7

9to5Google notes that it spotted Face Unlock development back in December. At the time, only the Pixel 6 Pro supported the feature. And it wasn’t a real 3D face recognition system. Instead, we’re looking at the less-secure face unlock system that Android had well before Apple’s Face ID.

The Pixel 6 Pro does have better selfie cam hardware than the Pixel 6. That explains why the Pixel 6 wouldn’t support it.

That’s one way the Pixel 7 phones could get a version of Face Unlock. Rather than using a complex camera system and/or the Soli chip to deliver safe 3D face authentication, Google might combine 2D face authentication with a different unlock mechanism. The former might offer quick screen unlocks, but the user would still use a fingerprint to authenticate payments and sensitive logins.

The second possible avenue for getting Face Unlock on Pixel 7 is placing the sensors under the screen. However, that’s a technology that not even Apple can deploy this year. Apple has had five years of 3D face recognition experience and can’t do it. The Face ID components won’t go under the screen next year either.

What about Face Unlock on a foldable Pixel?

Finally, there’s one other way for getting Face Unlock on a Pixel phone, but it doesn’t have to be the Pixel 7. Google is also making a foldable Pixel, reportedly called Notepad.

The device will use the same design as the Galaxy Z Fold 3, which means it’ll feature a cover screen on the outside when folded. That cover screen might also rock a bezel for Face Unlock components, which wouldn’t be a disastrous design choice. However, the expensive 3D face unlock system would be useless when the phone is unfolded even in such a case.

All of this is speculation, as we have no rumors to support these hypotheses. The most accessible and most affordable way for Google to bring Face Unlock to Pixel 7 is to go for the less-secure mode that leverages only the powers of the selfie camera. Such a system could also be retrofitted to some of the older handsets. It would be a software update for the Pixels where the camera hardware meets Google’s needs.

But if that’s the way Google will go about Face Unlock on Pixels, the feature will need a new marketing name. Face Unlock implies a 3D face recognition system, and that won’t be the case.

More Pixel coverage: For more Pixel news, visit our Pixel 6 guide.


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