Another Face ID on MacBook patent has been found — but what’s taking so long?

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple has spoken at great length about the benefits of Face ID compared to Touch ID, especially where security is concerned. So it’s a surprise the feature hasn’t made the jump to MacBooks yet — especially with the display notch. Thankfully a new patent suggests that it could be a possibility at some point.

The patent (spotted by Apple Insider) refers to a “Light Recognition Module for Determining a User of a Computing Device.” While it primarily refers to installing a light recognition module in a laptop, stored inside the display notch. The idea being that this module will recognize the person sitting at the keyboard and safeguard user data in the process.

Apparently this module features a light emitter that projects a predetermined pattern of light (such as infrared) and a detector that then recognizes the pattern caused by that light reflecting off objects in view — which would primarily be the user. That’s pretty much how Face ID works, on the iPhone.

face id patent for macbook and imac

(Image credit: Apple/USPTO)

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumors of Face ID coming to Macs. In fact rumors go back to at least 2020, when code for something called a “PearlCamera” was uncovered in the beta version of macOS BigSur — complete with references to “Face Detect” and BioCapture.” Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman later speculated that Face ID could be coming, back in 2021, and there have been numerous patents related to adding facial recognition to a range of Mac machines — the most recent of which appeared in June.

The question now is whether Apple will actually take that leap and add Face ID to Macs, or if this is just another case of a patent that isn’t actually supposed to go anywhere. It happens a lot, and just because a company patents an idea doesn’t mean they ever have any intention of using it.

The fact that these patents date back at least three years means there’s no guarantee Face ID will come to a MacBook anytime soon. Plus, as Gurman pointed out two years ago, Touch ID is still useful as a low cost version of biometric security. Adding Face ID would increase the cost of production, which would no doubt be reflected in the retail price.

And, let’s be completely honest, Macs are expensive enough as it is. There are benefits of having Face ID, since it’s much harder to crack than Touch ID and much more convenient to use. It’s also been available on iPhones since 2017, and there’s got to be a good reason why Apple hasn’t expanded to other product ranges. Even iPads are lacking in Face ID support, and right now it’s exclusive to the ultra-premium iPad Pros.

There’s definitely a reason for that, but Apple is rarely forthcoming about things it hasn’t done yet. So it’s unlikely we’re going to get an answer to these questions anytime soon. Let’s just hope that this patent means the dream of a Face ID MacBook isn’t dead just yet.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.