Is Google planning to answer Apple's Face ID with some form of facial recognition inside the Pixel 4? Rumors appear split on that front, though a very interesting story from ZDNet could clue us into Google's master plan for its next-generation handset.
According to the article, teams of Google employees are approaching random individuals in public to ask them if they'd like to share their own facial data with the company in exchange for a $5 gift card to Amazon or Starbucks.
The reason? "Collecting data to improve the next generation of facial recognition phone unlocking," one of the employees told an individual cited in ZDNet's report, named George.
George, who says he was relaxing in a New York City park when he was approached by a pair of Google surveyors, was apparently handed a prototype device that looked suspiciously like a smartphone in an obtrusive case to take photos of his face from various angles. He said he signed some kind of waiver, and one of the Google representatives told him the company had teams in many other cities collecting similar data as well.
Of course, facial recognition is nothing new to Google as a company — Google Photos has utilized it for years to organize albums of images based on who's in them. But the Pixel 4 could very well be Google's first stab at a sophisticated biometric solution along the lines of the iPhone's Face ID with the capability to fully replace your phone's fingerprint sensor.
The big question, of course, is what that phone in the big, boxy case was. George couldn't comment on whether it resembled an existing or never-before-seen Pixel product, but the employee's explanation for the survey, as well as the mysterious device at the center of it, would seem to suggest this whole experiment plays into the larger Pixel 4 plot.
As ZDNet's story rightly points out, though, collecting data this way — in person, by approaching strangers — seems like a wildly inefficient way to accumulate the wealth of images Google would theoretically need to train its AI on. That gives us pause, but then, why else would the company be going to these lengths?
At the moment, there's a lot of questions surrounding the Pixel 4's mysterious top bezel. In addition to dual front-facing cameras, it's been rumored to integrate a sophisticated short-range radar sensor as part of an initiative Google has codenamed Project Soli. With Soli support, the Pixel 4 could be able to read fine hand gestures in mid-air, like pinching or turning a knob, for various functions.
It's quite possible this array of sensors contains the ability to identify faces. It would explain everything — though we'll all have to hang on another few months for the Pixel 4's full reveal to find out for sure.